In an exclusive interview with Sir David Frost, Shimon Peres, the Israeli president, questions the Israeli government’s position on settlements, pours scorn on accusations of a plot to kill Yasser Arafat, the late leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), and opens his heart about the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, the former Israeli prime minister.
Peres, who is now 89, describes his family’s fate during World War II (many were burned alive by the Nazis in Poland in 1942). He talks about Israel’s victory in the Six-Day war in 1967 and the settlement policy which followed it. And he explains how Israel’s settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories ran out of control in the late 1970s.
“The problem with the settlements started when they went into great numbers, you know … 100,000, 200,000, 300,000,” he says.
You know, they talk about an 'Arab Spring'. All over the world they're a new generation. They don't want to listen to us. The future belongs to the young.
Challenged by Sir David about the recent announcement of 3,000 new homes in Jerusalem, Peres questions the messages coming from the Israeli government.
“The prime minister announced that he permitted to plan the 3,000 settlers, not to implement. For the last 13 years it is not the first time that such a permission was announced but nothing was built,” says the Israeli leader.
Peres admits that the Israeli military could have killed Arafat at any time they wished and then make it out to be an accident, but he says, “there were clear orders not to do so and we wouldn’t do it”. He also denies complicity in the former PLO leader’s subsequent death, which is currently under investigation.
He goes on to discuss in detail why he and Rabin entered negotiations with the PLO in the early 1990s and describes, with obvious emotion, the night the former Israeli prime minister was assassinated.
Moving on to current issues Peres talks about his relationship with Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, also known as Abu Mazen, and Israelis’ widespread disillusionment following the relocation of settlers from Gaza.
“Gaza became a base to shoot at us … we hoped [it] would be a solution. Instead it became an obstacle,” he says.
And he pulls no punches with his views on Palestinians. Challenged by Sir David that the Palestinians appear to be the victims and Israel, the bullies, Peres says: “They are self-victimising. They victimise themselves. They are a victim of their own mistakes unnecessarily.”
The region’s senior statesman finally looks to the future and says: “You know, they talk about an ‘Arab Spring’. All over the world they’re a new generation. They don’t want to listen to us. The future belongs to the young.”