Divisions within the Likud are standing in the way of a national unity government, said Labor Party leader Shimon Peres as he spoke Monday morning at the closing session of the Jewish Agency's annual assembly in Jerusalem.
He later told reporters that given the opposition within the Likud to disengagement, new elections will more likely occur than withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.
Speaking to the Jewish Agency, Peres said he will support a unified government only if it is based on a unified policy.
He attacked the Likud and Finance Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for promoting an economic policy that is contrary to the social values of the state. He also said that failure to withdraw from territory has wasted billions of shekels.
"Today we have a government without a policy and a policy without a government," said Peres. For example, he said, the Labor Party, which is in the opposition, is ready to support the disengagement plan, but isn't sure the Likud, which is in the government, is behind it.
"That is why we [the Israeli government] keep postponing it. The Likud must make up their own mind. Do they want to go back to the greater Israel or do they want to go ahead to a greater peace," said Peres.
"You cannot hang onto the two of them at the same time, so theoretically the Likud made the decision, but pragmatically they can not implement it," he said.
"If the Likud wants to do unilateral disengagement I will support it, but I have my doubts.
"We must have dates, otherwise the Likud will run away all the time. Why was it postponed until March? Because the Likud cannot make it in May. If the Likud is still divided in March, they will postpone it again," he said.
"If we agree on something let's do it, not postpone it," said Peres. "You will pay for every postponement in human terms, in money, in international positions," he said.
He recalled that while he was the foreign minister under Ariel Sharon, the prime minister sent him to negotiate a permanent solution with then-Legislative Council speaker Ahmed Qurei. "I came back and showed Sharon the agreement. He said, you stole it away from me. These are my ideas. I didn't deny that. Than he said the difference between us is that you are in a hurry, you want to do it in two or three years and I'm thinking of doing it in seven or eight years," said Sharon.
The difference between a politician and a messiah is the timetable, said Peres in jest. But on a serious note he added that there is common agreement among Israelis and Palestinians on a two-state solution, along the lines of the pre-1967 border, with some alterations. He added that within that scenario, he does not think Jerusalem should be divided.
Although he supports disengagement, his preference is a negotiated solution, said Peres. Israelis have to deal with the existing leadership in a negotiating situation because no one can guarantee that a future leader will be better, said Peres.
He said he considers Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei (Abu Ala) a serious man. "I know him for many years, I negotiated with him. He is a Palestinian patriot who wants peace. You can negotiate with him. Let him handle [PA Chairman Yasser] Arafat. He [Qurei] wants peace with Israel for territory," said Peres.
"Let them keep Arafat as a Palestinian problem instead of a Jewish problem," said Peres.
If the government dismantles even one settlement, Qurei will remain prime minister, he added.
Peres also said that he doesn't think there should be religious parties. Instead he said that all parties should protect religious rights.
"All parties can have religious responsibilities without a religious party," he said. "Let's distinguish between religion and politics." Politics is the art of compromise, whereas religion is not about compromise.
"I feel myself that I am also religious. I represent the religious interests more than many other religious people. When you come in as a religious group, you begin to compromise," said Peres. But religion is not about compromise, that is the realm of politics.
Peres attacked Netanyahu, explaining that he had no one but himself and the Likud to blame for the poor economy. "He said his predecessors left him with a poor economy. But who were his predecessors, Silvan Shalom and Ariel Sharon."
"I do not see a good Jewish community ignoring the fate of the poor, the old, the wounded. We are a nation built on solidarity, not on competition," said Peres.
He added that the American system works in the United States only because its resources are so vast. He said that instead of looking toward the American economy, Netanyahu should be adopting the model used in the Scandinavian countries.
"I don't see any reason why we shouldn't be like Denmark or Sweden," said Peres.
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