Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is a worthy and serious partner, and it was certainly possible to reach a peace agreement with him during the past three years, President Shimon Peres told Haaretz.
"I am aware that there are other opinions [about whether Abbas can or wants to make peace], but I don't accept them, and I have a little experience," Peres said during an interview last week in the President's Residence in Jerusalem.
"I've had no small number of conversations with Abu Mazen," Peres continued, referring to Abbas by his less formal name. "All of them were with the prime minister's knowledge. He knows all the details. Based on these conversations, I'm convinced we could have achieved peace with Abu Mazen. He's a worthy partner and can deliver the goods."
So why hasn't that happened?
"Because the prime minister thinks there's a different way," Peres said. "[Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu removed hundreds of roadblocks in the West Bank, which contributed a lot to strengthening the Palestinian economy and to building a state-in-the-making. But there were no negotiations.
"We also built a state before we became a state," Peres said. "To a great degree, that's what the Palestinians are doing today."
In private conversations, Peres has compared the Netanyahu government to an "uncalibrated scale." He explained, "When a scale is not calibrated, you can never get a correct weight. A government has to be established on a zeroed scale. When a government tilts to the right or to the left, the decisions made are never the correct decisions. I thought there should have been a national unity government, and I still think so."
Asked what the chances were of an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement in the coming three years, Peres said, "There's a reasonable chance. I don't know any prime minister who has influenced reality more than reality has influenced him. There is no prime minister who isn't eventually influenced by reality."
As to his personal plans after he retires from the presidency in just over two years, Peres said he would like to deal with science, particularly brain research. He said he would not initiate or encourage any move to extend his term as president.
"It's enough for me, and enough for everyone else. I enjoy the compliments but one has to be careful of them. I need to be vaccinated against compliments."