Israeli President Shimon Peres sat down for a live interview with Arab news site Panet today, answering questions from citizens from Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt.
The unique question-and-answer session drew such attention that Panet’s website temporarily crashed Thursday, as users logged on to hear Peres’ responses.
The president began the interview by addressing Israel’s interception Wednesday of a shipment of Iranian arms into Gaza:
I don’t understand why the Iranians continue to do this. Do we need more weapons and more bloodshed in the Middle East? Gaza needs development and infrastructure, not weapons. If Hamas continues to fire missiles from Gaza, we will be forced to respond strongly. What do they stand to gain from it? Nothing! Terrorism brought nothing aside from destruction and division. My opinion on the situation in Gaza is clear – if the terror from Gaza stops then there will be no need for a naval blockade. We have no interest in seeing the people of Gaza suffer, we want to see Gaza developing and prosperous. But instead they invest millions in arms, why? Israel acquiesces to requests from Gaza – we transfer fuel when there is a shortage and have expanded the fishing zone.
The president also answered a question from an Iranian Facebook user, who asked about the potential for future Israeli-Iranian relations:
I don’t understand why Iran continues to threaten to destroy Israel. Iran has become a center of terror, which is developing nuclear weapons. The Iranian people are not our enemies and we have never threatened them. Why does an Iranian leader stand up and say he wants to destroy Israel? What has Israel done to Iran? Historically we had good relations and today the whole world condemns Iran. The former Iranian president denied the Holocaust, something that is simply unthinkable. Iran must be honest or the world will expose its true face.
Peres also spoke about current Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, saying:
We have already made a great achievement – everyone agrees on the desired outcome, two states for two nations, it wasn’t always like that. There are still disagreements on certain issues and that is why we need negotiations. If we agreed about everything then a negotiation process would be unnecessary. This was also the way with Egypt and Jordan. The aim of the negotiations is to build bridges of agreement. I have no doubt that there will be peace and it will come sooner than we think. The whole world is watching and expects a peace deal. I believe we can solve the disputes over land and the dispute over recognition of Israel as a Jewish state by agreeing that the peace deal is signed between two states; a Jewish state, Israel and an Arab state, Palestine. The UN designed two states; a Jewish state and an Arab state. We can find language that allows both sides to overcome the disagreement.
And Peres spoke to US efforts in the peace process, including the near-constant presence of Secretary of State John Kerry in the Middle East:
Secretary Kerry and President Obama are trying to bring the two sides together during the current visit. I believe that President Obama asked Prime Minister Netanyahu to take some steps towards the Palestinians and in a few days will ask the same of Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas] when he visits Washington. This isn’t a simple process. I remember the total lack of trust during the peace negotiations with Egypt and with Jordan. There were those who said we would never be able to speak to Arafat, and we did.
The Israeli leader concluded on an optimistic note:
I think the Arab world understands that its main problem is not Israel. There is no country that wants to see a prosperous Arab world more than Israel. What Israel achieves through high-tech the Arab world can achieve as well. Israel can assist its neighbors – it’s a shame to waste time on rivalry and rhetoric.