Morocco, Asharq Al-Awsat- Israeli Labor Party leader Amir Peretz has said that his position against the Hamas movement does not mean that he is against the Arabs and the Muslim world, stating he is concerned with “protecting ourselves (Israelis) from terrorism and seeking ways for pushing the peace process forward.” In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat during his recent visit to Morocco, Peretz said, “Hamas and other factions continue to stick to their stand and we will do what we can to protect the Israeli citizens.”
Peretz, a Jew of Moroccan origin was born in the town of Boujad, southeast of Casablanca. He said that he discussed the issue of peace during his meeting with the Moroccan king, Mohamed VI in Fez. Peretz said: We need King Mohammed VI now more than ever as part of the peace process.
On the Moroccan Jews and whether they will vote for him, speaking in both the Moroccan dialect of Arabic that he knows well and Hebrew, Peretz said: “I believe that the Moroccan Jews will now vote for the Labor Party because for the first time, they have the chance to support a man who can deal with peace and security issues while tackling social and economic problems at the same time”.
Concerning the Israeli Arabs, Peretz said that if he wins the elections there would be major changes in the way in which they are dealt. He added that coexistence is the key to a stronger state of Israel.
The following is the text of the interview with Peretz translated from Hebrew to English by his daughter Shani.
Asharq Al-Awsat: What is the purpose of your visit to Morocco and your meeting with King Mohammed VI with less than two months to go until the Israeli legislative elections?
Peretz: There are two main reasons for my visit to Morocco. The first has to do with the new state of affairs that we now face in the Middle East, as we are aware of the importance of opening new channels of communication for consultations and talks. We do not know how the situation will develop with HAMAS. Based on this, we do not want to make things appear as a dispute with the Arab and the Muslim worlds and we cannot allow this to happen, as we are not against the Arab or the Muslim worlds. The issue is centered on protecting ourselves from terrorism and finding the appropriate means to push the peace process ahead.
The second reason is that Morocco is my birthplace and I am proud of this and proud of visiting it again as the head of the Israeli Labor Party and as a candidate for Israeli prime minister. I believe that relations between the Labor Party and King Mohammed VI should be further enhanced to establish contacts and discussions on all the developments in the region. I am aware of the heavy responsibility that I carry. We must find a solution to the perturbed situation in the region. Relations with King Mohammed VI while being strong and solid are normal relations.
Asharq Al-Awsat: You are an Israeli of Moroccan origin. If you become the prime minister of Israel, how will you be different from Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, or Ehud Baraq?
Peretz: I am well aware of the needs of the Israeli people not only as a result of an analysis of the situation but because I understand their feelings. I am also aware that peace has two basic meanings: The first is the need to reach an agreement between the two parties of the conflict, each of which will lose something if they do not work to achieve peace. The second thing is that both sides should respect the human element in these negotiations and each side should believe that the other side genuinely wants to push this process ahead and wants to exert its utmost efforts to coexist together peacefully.
Asharq Al-Awsat: What is your opinion of King Mohammed VI after your talks with him? Do you believe that he will continue to support the peace process as his father had done?
Peretz: I met the king in Fes and he is well informed about the current developments in the region. I met a person who believes human rights to be a basic issue and I was greatly pleased when he spoke about the huge efforts he has been exerting to settle domestic affairs in Morocco. We discussed how to achieve peace in the region and there was a similarity in viewpoints on a peaceful solution, given that it is the only option for genuine peace. I am confident that King Mohammed VI will play his role and continue to assume a basic and necessary role concerning a very difficult situation. Since matters are as they are, we need him now more than ever to play a basic role in the peace process and to maintain Morocco’s role in it.
Asharq Al-Awsat: You called against holding negotiations with Hamas since it wants to destroy Israel. If you become prime minister and find yourself facing Hamas, how will you deal with the situation?
Peretz: We cannot change our stand on Hamas and Hamas is the one that needs to change its position. We do not want to deport or expel the Palestinians but rather seek to achieve peace with them and want them to establish a state of their own. I believe that the establishment of a Palestinian state is not a purely Palestinian interest but an Israeli interest as well. Hamas and other factions maintain their stand that the solution for the Middle East is the destruction of Israel. Therefore, we must struggle to protect Israeli citizens and we will do anything to protect our citizens.
Asharq Al-Awsat: Do the Moroccan Jews in Israel support you?
Peretz: One can say that over the past 50 years, or since the establishment of the state of Israel, the Moroccan Jews used to support the Likud Party. I believe that they will now vote for the Labor Party as for the first time, they will support a man who can tackle security and peace issues, whilst dealing with economic and social issues. I work for social justice and the security of the citizens.
Asharq Al-Awsat: What about the Israeli Arabs? What can you offer them if you win?
Peretz: If I win the upcoming general elections, a major change will take place concerning the treatment of the Israeli Arabs as they are citizens like us. I consider the Israeli Arabs a bridge to the Arab world. I believe the state of Israel is duty bound to make the Israeli Arabs feel that it cares for them and treats them as equals. This is what I submitted in my electoral platform and in all sectors. It is known that if I am successful in the elections, we will spend 10 million shekels on improving education, health, housing, and employment opportunities.
I am very happy because the Israeli Arabs know that I mean what I say as my stand on coexistence has always been different from the stands of other Israeli leaders because I consider coexistence the key to a stronger Israel.
Asharq Al-Awsat: Will you shave your moustache if you win the March 28 elections?
Peretz: (laughing) Look, I like my moustache, which has become a public issue in Israel therefore, I cannot decide alone to shave it. If I decide to do this, we will need to hold a popular referendum.
Asharq Al-Awsat: You were not able to visit your hometown Boujad during this visit to Morocco, when did you last visit?
Peretz: The last time I visited was twelve years ago when I visited it with my family and my late father who was notable within the Jewish community. He had a gas station. I still remember the warm welcome our neighbors in Boujad gave us. They were waiting for us, hosted a large reception, and were very happy to meet us again. I will tell you a story that shows our close ties with Boujad. When I and another member of my family visited our house in Israel 25 years ago, I found a big van parked in front of the house. The van was full of beautiful furniture. We found out that our mother had been to Gaza to purchase new furniture as at that time it was still possible to go to Gaza. She changed the furniture in our house. When we went to our house in Boujad twelve years ago and my father told me that this was where I was born. When he opened the door, I was surprised to find that it has furniture similar to that which my mother had bought in Gaza. I then realized how close my mother was to our hometown to the point that she purchased the same furniture that she had in our house in Morocco.
Asharq Al-Awsat: Have you met your friend from the same city, Mohammed Yaseen Mansouri, the director of the Studies and Documents Department (military intelligence)?
Peretz: Yes, I met him and I also met some of our acquaintances in Boujad. They are good people and hold high positions in Morocco and Yaseen is one of them. I am honored to know him. He is intelligent and kind hearted. I would also like to mention my friend Andre Azoulay, who is an asset for Morocco.