On December 10, 2006 Israeli Vice Premier Shimon Peres appeared on CNN’s “Late Edition” to be interviewed by Wolf Blitzer. I am offering the transcript here for the sake of posterity, and will likely add my own commentary in brackets later. The transcript is likely owned by Time-Warner, and I have not asked their permission to re-post it. As I am not getting paid for this in any way I do not see a problem with that, but if I am asked, I will take it down with enthusiasm.
BLITZER: Welcome back to “Late Edition.” I’m Wolf Blitzer in Washington. In the Iraq Study Group report, the Arab-Israeli conflict is seen as inextricably linked to the situation in Iraq.
I put this issue to the former Israeli prime minister, the current vice premier, Shimon Peres, when we spoke here earlier.
BLITZER: Prime Minister Peres, thanks very much for joining us. Welcome to Washington.
SHIMON PERES, ISRAELI VICE PREMIER: Thank you.
BLITZER: A lot of commotion as a result of the Iraq Study Group’s recommendation, among other things, a recommendation that directly involves Israel.
I’ll read it to you. “There must be a renewed and sustained commitment by the United States to a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace on all fronts: Lebanon and Syria, and President Bush’s June 2002 commitment to a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine.”
In other words, the study group recommends a much more assertive U.S. involvement. And that, in turn, could help the U.S. in Iraq. Your reaction?
PERES: The problem is not to state commitment. All of us are for it. The problem is, there is a two-party situation among the Palestinians. They are split.
The problem is not so much how to build a Palestinian state on the side of the state of Israel but how to unite the Palestinians.
BLITZER: But the general notion that James Baker and Lee Hamilton and their colleagues have that, in order to ease the crisis, potentially a catastrophe, in Iraq, the United States has to get much more intimately involved on the Israeli-Palestinian front.
PERES: I wish it would help. The problem is that there are two different wars. One political, which Abu Mazen, or Abbas, as they call him, is having…
BLITZER: Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority?
PERES: Right. And the other is religious: Hamas. Hamas is not looking for a territorial solution. They want to get rid of Israel. They don’t look for victory. They look for domination of the Iranians, the Hamas and the Hezbollah, over the Middle East, religiously.
So you will talk to them and they won’t answer. Today the prime minister, on behalf of Hamas, said that, even if we should reach an agreement, we will not recognize Israel.
BLITZER: We’re going to get to that shortly.
Another element in the Iraq Study Group’s report that came out this past week included a call for the Bush administration to engage in a direct dialogue with Iran and Syria, without preconditions.
And to entice the Syrians, it said this: “In the context of a full and secure peace agreement, the Israelis should return the Golan Heights, with a U.S. security guarantee for Israel that could include an international force on the border, including U.S. troops, if requested by both parties.”
Is this a good idea?
PERES: This is a second step. The first step to recommend is that Syria will disconnect relations with Hezbollah. I don’t see the first step. So obviously, how can you have the second step?
Basically, we are all for embracing peace. We would like to negotiate some time, somehow. But the Syrians have a double policy. If the Palestinians are split, the Syrians are double…
BLITZER: But hypothetically, if the Syrians were willing to accept these conditions, sever their ties with Hezbollah, other so- called terrorist groups that the U.S. regard as terrorist groups, and negotiate a settlement, a full peace agreement with Israel, would Israel be ready to give up the Golan Heights?
PERES: Israel has shown, in the past, it was ready. Actually, we have had a full agreement with the Syrians. At the last minute, when President Clinton flew to Geneva, to meet Assad the father, and they were sure it was going through, and at the last minute, he said no. All the story with the Syrians is spent (ph) with “no” and “no” and “no.”
BLITZER: But was Israel willing to give up all of the Golan Heights?
PERES: At that time, more or less, yes. The difference was minor. It was bridgeable. That was done by…
BLITZER: Do you think the current Israeli government — you’re the vice premier — would be willing to do the same if there were a change of heart in Damascus?
PERES: I don’t see the change of heart. The present government says we are seeking a full-fledged peace with everybody.
But the Syrians are connected with Hezbollah. The Syrians are hosting the headquarters of Hamas. The Syrians don’t want to meet with us.
So, I mean, as a wish, I’m all for it. The problem is, is it more than a wishful thinking? I wish it would be a reality.
BLITZER: On Iran, the study group recommends, also, that the U.S. open up a direct dialogue with Iran and not link it to Iran stopping its enrichment of uranium program.
Your prime minister, Ehud Olmert, said the other day — he said this. He said, “It is absolutely intolerable for Israel to accept the threat of a nuclear Iran. I prefer not to discuss the Israeli options. Israel has many options.”
But your minister of strategic affairs, Avigdor Lieberman, said this on Thursday.
BLITZER: He said, “We must also be prepared to deal alone with this problem. The dialogue with Iran will be a 100-percent failure, just like it was with North Korea.
PERES: Well, I’m not so sure, you know. I think Iran is a problem for the rest of the world. I wouldn’t recommend that Israel will monopolize it and make it an Iranian-Israeli conflict. It will be a mistake. Israel has enough troubles of her own.
And I cannot see how the world can tolerate an Iranian bomb and, as a consequence, a Middle Eastern nuclear situation. It will go (inaudible) to terroristic organizations. Even the Russians have to think what will happen if a nuclear bomb will arrive, for example, to Chechnya.
So why should we monopolize it? I think it’s a danger.
Now, to talk with Iran, we have had relations with Iran, different Iran. The problem is…
BLITZER: You had relations when the shah was in power.
PERES: The shah, the first king in history that liberalized Israel and was for immigration to Israel was Cyrus, the emperor of Iran, of Persia. He was the best friend Israel had.
BLITZER: That was a long time ago.
PERES: Well, we have time maybe to take a shorter time. The shah wasn’t a long time ago. The problem is not Iran, not the Iranian people. The problem is the ayatollahs. If you can talk with ayatollahs, God bless you.
BLITZER: Let’s talk a little bit about this book by former President Jimmy Carter entitled “Palestine Peace, Not Apartheid.” You worked with Jimmy Carter for a long time. I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to read the book, but it’s caused quite a bit of controversy here in the United States, I assume in Israel as well.
PERES: I’m not surprised by it. Jimmy Carter did a brilliant job in Camp David.
BLITZER: Back in 1978.
PERES: Back in 1978. And without him, I’m not sure if Camp David would take place. Shall never forget it. I think this was the most brilliant achievement of his presidency. He really did a great job.
Now, he knows Israel for apartheid — can a Jewish person be for apartheid? A people that, throughout history, suffered from discrimination, from apartheid of any sort. We shall be for apartheid? Doesn’t he know it?
BLITZER: He says that he’s not saying that there’s apartheid in Israel, but, in effect, in the Israeli-occupied territories, the West Bank. Listen precisely to what he told me, the other day, here on CNN. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JIMMY CARTER, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In the West Bank, in the occupied territories, a horrible example of apartheid is being perpetrated against the Palestinians who live there. Israel has penetrated and occupied, confiscated and colonized major portions of the territory belonging to the Palestinians.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Strong words from the former president of the United States.
PERES: Yes, but I’m even more surprised listening to it. He knows perfectly well the Palestinians are divided in two parts. One parts wants to make this — we promise to help and support the Palestinian state, to give practically all of the land back. What sort of an apartheid?
The other side, there is Hamas. Hamas is against anybody and everybody who is not religious in their sense, who is modern. I mean, without them, the Palestinians would have already a state a long time ago. They postponed it. How can you accuse us?
You know, even take Hamas. We gave back Gaza completely to the Palestinians. We took out all the soldiers from there. We dismantled settlements by force. We paid $2 billion compensation. We handed over the whole land.
Who doesn’t enable them to be independent and be alone? I can’t understand Mr. Carter. President Carter is a man of fact. He should know it. How can he call it apartheid?
BLITZER: We have to leave it right there. Shimon Peres, the vice prime minister of Israel. Prime Minister, thanks very much for coming in.
PERES: Thank you.