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The Peres World View

24 June 2002

By Yisrael Ne’eman

People get stuck in concepts and ‘world views’.  Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres is such an individual.  Thirty years ago Peres along with the late Moshe Dayan (Labor defense minister from 1967 – 1974 and foreign minister in Menachem Begin’s first Likud government) believed in a ‘functional compromise’ for joint Israeli and Arab jurisdiction in the West Bank and Gaza.  Israel would not have to withdraw and the Arabs would run their own internal affairs.  Such was the birth of the autonomy scheme, well before the Camp David Accords with Egypt in 1979.

The autonomy scheme has since expanded where Israel agreed to and withdrew from Palestinian areas through the Oslo Accords negotiated by Peres and Palestinian leaders.  Yet Peres believed that no border fence should be erected between the two peoples and always spoke of Palestinians and Israelis as not living ‘side by side’ but rather as ‘intertwined within each other’. 

The last two years have been an eye opener for those supporting the Peres vision.  Many have decided on the necessity of a separation between Israelis and Palestinians.  In the Yasir Arafat era ‘peace and harmony’ will not reign.  On the eastern side (the Jordan Rift Valley) of the West Bank a security zone is also deemed imperative.

At yesterday’s cabinet meeting Peres was furious yet could not take a public stand against the security fence due to overwhelming public support for its establishment.  The vast majority believe the fence will cut back on terror attacks as it has in the Gaza Strip.  Supposedly Peres was angered that the security fence was running a bit to the east of Israel’s old border, a ‘defacto’ annexation of the areas between the 1967 border and the fence itself.  The area in question is quite small but contains a fairly large Jewish population.  Peres was quite aggravated but over this he did not explode.

The issue of the Jordan Rift Valley brought about his outburst and threat to leave the government.  The government wants a 20 kilometer wide strip along the border with Jordan.  Peres considers this an annexation of 22% of the Palestinian areas and an obstacle to an agreed upon peace.  Prime Minister Sharon and the right call it a ‘security zone’, but in reality it is a step towards annexation. The eastern areas along the Jordan River are of major significance if Israel wants to stop a future attack from the east (and Iraqi invasion through Jordan).  But the government backed down and the eastern ‘security zone’ idea has been shelved for the moment.

Yet the writing is on the wall.  The 35 year old territorial compromise draft of the Allon Plan including Israeli annexation of the Jordan Rift Valley is very much alive while the Peres – Dayan functional compromise is dead; killed by PA Chairman Yasir Arafat.  Ideologically Peres is for two states but against separation, however he cannot say so out loud.  So he used his objection to the Jordan Rift security zone as his reason to ‘quit’ the government.

He found no support from the Labor ministers, rather they are threatening to resign if he leaves the National Unity Government.  Should Labor leave Sharon has a right wing religious government and Labor will have shot itself in the foot by abandoning ship during a security and economic crisis.  Peres understands very well the pressure is on him to stay.

The left wing of Labor is blaming him for keeping Labor in the government and the moderates such as Defense Minister Ben Eliezer do not want him to make waves.  Concepts and world views die hard, especially for Shimon Peres and the Oslo advocates since it really looked as if peace were around the corner.  Peres was the only minister to vote against the fence because of its ‘eastern’ direction.

Reality has a way of dictating history.