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If you like Shimon Peres's story, you might also like:
Ehud Barak,
Mikhail Gorbachev,
John Hume,
Albie Sachs,
Desmond Tutu
and Elie Wiesel

Shimon Peres can also be seen and heard in our Podcast Center

Shimon Peres's recommended reading: Crime and Punishment

Related Links:
Peres Center for Peace
Nobel Prize
Shimon Peres

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Shimon Peres
Shimon Peres
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Shimon Peres Interview (page: 5 / 5)

Former President of Israel

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  Shimon Peres

Can you tell us how you approached those negotiations that ultimately led to your winning the Nobel Peace Prize. Once again, it seems you were learning and listening where other people might not.

Shimon Peres: At the beginning, I thought that we have to make peace with King Hussein. That would eventually represent both the Jordanians and the Palestinians. I think by geography, and the reason -- we are a triangle: Jordan, Palestine and ourselves. So I went and negotiated with King Hussein secretly, and we reached an agreement. The rest of the negotiations took place in London, at a private home of a friend of the King and a friend of mine. I remember that the wife of this person, who is a lawyer, sent away all of our staff, and she cooked herself, and at the end of the dinner, I suggested to the King that we should go and wash the dishes -- and the King was so happy to do so, but she wouldn't let us, so we didn't do it. Anyway, we sat for eight hours, and we worked out our agreement. I think this was the best agreement we ever had. But at that time, we had the National Unity Government, 50 percent Likud and 50 percent us, and the Likud Party did not agree, so we lost maybe our best opportunity for peace, to my deep regret.

Then I thought, "My God, we don't have a choice but to negotiate with the Palestinians, with the PLO, with Arafat." We had many contacts with the PLO people, but I noticed, like many people in exile, they have a tendency to make from every problem an ideology, and from non-ideology a solution. So you argue and argue and argue endlessly.

I was looking for a person among the Palestinians who can come down to earth, because the arguments are well-known by both sides, and it's almost a waste of time to begin and blame and accuse and demand. Then, among the many contacts, there was one person that -- I asked him to do something which for me would be a test, and for him very difficult. You know, we have had two levels of negotiations, one directly with the Palestinians, and the other which is called the "multinational negotiations." One was about the borders, and the other was about the relations, with the participation of many nations. Practically everybody participated. One of those groups was dealing with refugees, headed by a representative of Canada. We were supposed to nominate a person to represent our side, the Palestinians a person to represent their side. The Palestinians nominated somebody who was a member of the PNC, Palestinian National Council. According to law, we weren't permitted to negotiate through the PLO. So I approached this person (Abu Ala'a) and said, "Look, do you want to negotiate, do you want to be serious? Replace your man." And instead of him saying, as usually anybody would say, "It's impossible. Forget it," he said, "I shall try." And it didn't take much time. He replaced him. So I told myself, "That's it. He's the man." Because you know, it's one thing to win arguments, and another thing is to arrive at solutions.

Shimon Peres Interview Photo
The Prime Minister was Yitzhak Rabin. He was conducting the negotiations that took place in Washington. I told him from the outset that nothing would come out of it, because after every meeting, there was a press conference. You know, negotiations and lack of discretion is like trying to make love in the middle of the street. There are things that you have to keep in the dark. I told him about this man I knew, Abu Ala'a. I said, "Let me try with him." He wouldn't believe it, but he says, "Okay, try it." And while the negotiations in Washington deteriorated from day to day, our negotiations in Oslo went up from day to day. Finally, the negotiations in Washington fell down, and the negotiations in Oslo came to fruition.

We did it, half-legally, because there was a decision by our Parliament that we should not negotiate with the PLO. I wanted to go to negotiate directly with them, but Yitzhak Rabin told me, "Look, it would be very strange if the Minister of the Cabinet is breaking the law." So I sent my Director General of the Foreign Ministry, Uri Savir, who is a brilliant chap. He went together with an Israeli lawyer, who is also a brilliant lawyer. They met with the man I was mentioning, Abu Ala'a, who is now the Speaker of the Palestinian Assembly, who I believe is probably the most intelligent man that I can think of among the Palestinians.

The two of them established a chemistry immediately, Abu Ala'a and Uri Savir. What they were telling each other, nobody knows. It's really like a romantic experience. You have to seduce, you have to impress, and very often to close a little bit your eyes, because if you see everything too naked, you may lose your taste.

The last night before the (Oslo) agreement, which was August 1993, which also happened to be my birthday, so I was a little bit emotional. They reached a breakdown. And then, we negotiated through the telephone with Arafat and myself, eight hours. They were in Sweden, he was in Tunisia. And there was Mr. Larson from the Norwegian side and the late Foreign Minister of Norway, Holst. The telephone was so good, I could hear their cries, I could hear their suffering. I shall never forget this experience. Shall I say it's like a lady giving birth to a child? The pains, the hopes. And early in the morning, we reached an agreement by phone.

Then the Norwegians organized a secret meeting for signatures, because still the Cabinet didn't approve. I was there, and the room was filled by the Secret Service of Norway. We wouldn't let anybody else enter it. The day before the signing, there was a clash with the Hezbollah in Lebanon, and nine soldiers of our army lost their lives. The contrast was so great. We had prepared champagne and an environment of happiness -- and nine boys were killed. So I called up Rabin, and I said, "Look, I know exactly how you feel. We lost nine boys. Maybe the best thing will be to postpone it. We cannot celebrate this agreement tonight." Rabin thought for a while, and with his very deep voice, he said, "No. We shall sign." But we removed the champagne and all the other niceties and made it a dry meeting.

At the end of the signatures, Abu Ala'a asked to see me privately. Before he said a word, he burst into tears like a child. There was so much emotion in these negotiations. I was taken by that, I was surprised. Then he said nice things about the fate of his people and about the way we ran it and behaved.

I know many people criticize Arafat for good reasons. He was an impressive leader of the Palestinian revolt, and a failure of the Palestinian state. I for one will never forget the courageous steps he took, and there is no occasion whenever they attack Arafat that I wouldn't come on his side and say, "Don't forget the courageous decisions he has taken." And I would like to mention just one. With all Arab states, the basis of our negotiation was the United Nations Resolution about the 1947 borders. Would we make it a basis for our negotiations with the Palestinians? Fifty-five percent of the land was to go to the Palestinians, 45 to us. So it wouldn't fly. Arafat agreed to the 1967 borders, which gives the Palestinians only 22 percent and Israel 78 percent. I don't know of any other Palestinian leader that would do it, that was able to do it and ready to do it.

[ Key to Success ] Courage

Shimon Peres Interview Photo
You must be fair in your life. I criticize Arafat very much. I think, later on, he spoiled what he has achieved, but still, I remember what should be remembered as well. On the other hand, we on our side went a very long way, because the West Bank was under Arab rule. They never gave it to the Palestinians. Gaza was under Arab rule. They never gave it to the Palestinians. We did it. We helped them to build the Palestinian personality and eventually the Palestinian state. As I remember the role of Arafat, I don't regret the choice we made at that time.

The Nobel Prize was given also some years later to those who tried to forge peace in Northern Ireland. Do you see a parallel in the sense that you are still striving for a complete resolution?

Shimon Peres: I don't think so. When you make a breakthrough, things don't happen automatically and instantly. But without a breakthrough, it would be just a wish in the air.

Now, every important decision has to go through a long avenue of disappointments, of setbacks, of troubles. I am totally unimpressed. I would be surprised if it would go smoothly. Somebody said, "You are as great as your crawl." If you want to achieve something important, you have to fight and crawl for it under very uncomfortable conditions and circumstances. And then again, when you win a war, your people are united and applaud you. When you make peace, your people are doubtful and resentful. To negotiate peace is to negotiate with your own people, not with your opponent, and your own people say, "My God, why did you give up so much? Why were you in a hurry? Why didn't you think this and that?" Well, if you think this and that, and you won't to be in a hurry, still you have to pay the price, because peace has a price as war has a price. The difference is that the price of war is unavoidably accepted. The price of the cost of peace cannot be measured.

[ Key to Success ] Perseverance

Do you think the present war on terrorism is the correct way to go?

Shimon Peres: We don't have a choice. It's either them making our lives miserable and impossible, or us enabling even the people who harbor terror to join in the new age and the great promise.

Prime Minister, what are you most proud of accomplishing in your very rich career?

Shimon Peres: I don't know if I'm proud really, but if I have to compliment myself, I would just do it on those occasions where I have had a chance to save a life of a person or a child. This is in my eyes a real achievement. The rest? You try, but the ultimate test is saving life.

Thank you.

Thank you very much.

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This page last revised on Sep 23, 2010 21:48 EDT
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