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Peres predicts peace with Syria

Peres: 'There will be peace between Syria and Israel, sooner or later'

'Four Israeli prime ministers indicated they are ready to give back the Golan Heights and at the last moment the Syrians backed out'

'If they want to talk, let them come and talk'

(Photo: Amit Shabi)

Vice-Premier Shimon Peres says he is certain there will be peace between Syria and Israel "sooner or later." In an interview with The Jerusalem Post on Thursday, Peres said there was no alternative. "They won't have a choice. Nobody has a choice. War becomes so expensive. It doesn't bring any conclusion. It doesn't have any justification."

Two months ago, Peres caused controversy by inviting Syrian President Bashar Assad to peace talks in Israel. At the time he said that if Assad wanted a meeting, he was certain Israel would agree. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert later distanced himself from the remarks.

"I have not changed my view," said Peres, "but I knew that what was published [about Assad] was inaccurate. This week President Assad made his position clear in Moscow. He said: 'I am not looking for direct talks with Israel; I am looking for direct talks with the United States.' Now, if he wants to talk with the United States, let him go and talk with them. Israel is not the United States."

Peres said he was all too familiar with Syrian maneuvering. "I negotiated with [Hafez Assad] the father of the president. I got a message from the United States that 'He wants to make peace; he's ready to go a long way and he accepts my proposals.' That was March 1996. We were supposed to have elections in November.

"I said, 'Look if you want to make peace, it has to be before the elections. I cannot go to the elections with an open stomach, saying that I suggested [peace] but got no answer.' I said, 'If you want to do it in a few months, let's meet and conclude the outstanding issues.'

(Photo: Amit Shabi)

"I got a reply that he was ready to meet but couldn't give me a date. I answered, jokingly, that a girl without a date is like a date without a girl. You have to have the two together otherwise it's nonsense."

In short, Peres said, the Syrians were "all the time maneuvering." In a presumed reference to himself, Yitzhak Rabin, Binyamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak, he said: "Four Israeli prime ministers indicated they are ready to give back the Golan Heights and at the last moment, for reasons which are hard to explain, the Syrians backed out. So again, if they want to talk, let them come and talk. They cannot do it by proxy. They can not do it indirectly and they can not go to America and talk with America about how to make peace with Israel."

Peres said the Assads were so cautious because they represented a minority in Syria. "The inner situation in Syria is not simple. The Alawite tribe that the Assad families belong to is not more than 11 or 12 percent. From time to time, they permit themselves to issue declarations, but when it comes to [substantive] moves, they are extremely careful. On top of it, when the Syrians were in Lebanon they developed a great interest in the Lebanese economy and today maybe a third of Syria's revenues come from Lebanon.

"That's the reason why they keep so close to the Hezbollah. Hezbollah is the only party in Lebanon that wants to protect the interests of Syria."

About Shimon Peres

Shimon Peres was born in 1923 in Belorussia and immigrated with his family in 1934.

Peres is a former Vice-President of the Socialist International; former chairman of the Labor Party and an architect of the 1994 Oslo Accords, for which he was awarded (with Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat) the Nobel Peace Prize.

He studied at the Ben Shemen Agricultural School, and was one of the founders of Kibbutz Alumot in the Jordan Valley. He was politically active from the age of 16 and was elected Secretary of the Labor Youth Movement in 1943.

In Israel's War of Independence (1947-48), Peres was responsible for arms purchases and recruitment, and in 1948 was appointed head of the naval services. In 1949, he headed the Defense Ministry's procurement delegation to the United States and while there studied at the New York School for Social Research and Harvard University.

Peres was appointed Deputy Director-General of the Ministry of Defense (1952-53), and later Director-General (1953-59). He reorganized the Defense Ministry, initiated the establishment of the Israeli Aircraft Industries and Israel's nuclear project, and fostered the special relations with France. He was instrumental in planning the 1956 Sinai Campaign.

Peres with David Ben-Gurion and Moshe Dayan

Peres has been a Member of Knesset since 1959, and served as Deputy Minister of Defense (1959-65). In 1965 he left the Mapai Labor Party and was elected Secretary General of Rafi (the Israel Workers' List), which later merged with Mapai to form the Israel Labor Party.

Peres became Minister of Immigrant Absorption (1969), and later served as Minister of Transport and Communications (1970-74). In 1974 he was appointed Minister of Information and later Minister of Defense (1974-77). Highlights of his tenure as Defense Minister were the signing of the Interim Agreement with Egypt (1975), the Entebbe rescue operation (1976), and the opening of the Good Fence on Israel's border with Lebanon.

With Yitzhak Shamir, during the National Unity Government era

In 1977, Peres was elected chairman of the Labor Alignment. In 1984, a National Unity Government was formed, and Peres served first as Prime Minister (1984-86), and then as Vice Premier and Minister of Foreign Affairs (1986-88). During his term as Prime Minister, Israel withdrew from Lebanon (1985) and an economic stabilization plan was implemented.

In the following National Unity Government (1988-90), Peres was Vice Premier and Minister of Finance. In 1990-92, he was leader of the opposition in the Knesset.

In July 1992, Peres was appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs.

(Photo: Amit Shabi)

On November 5, 1995, following the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, he assumed the positions of Acting Prime Minister and Minister of Defense, until the general elections held in May 1996.

From 1996-1999 he served as a member of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

Shimon Peres served as Minister of Regional Cooperation from July 1999 until March 2001. He served as Minister of Foreign Affairs and Deputy Prime Minister from March 2001 until October 2002, when he resigned from the government together with the other Labor ministers. Peres served as Vice Premier from January until November 2005, when he resigned from the government together with the other Labor ministers.

Prior to the elections to the 17th Knesset, Peres left the Labor Party to join the newly founded Kadima. In May 2006 Shimon Peres was appointed Vice Premier, Minister for the Development of the Negev and Galillee.

Peres has published books in Hebrew, French and English on many subjects. In October 1997 he created the the Peres Center for Peace with the aim of advancing Arab-Israeli joint ventures. He is married, and has three children and six grandchildren.

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