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Peres Agrees Israel Should Thicken Settlements but Not at This Time

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Shimon Peres, leader of Israel’s opposition Labor Alignment, said here last night that while he believed Israel should “thicken” some of the settlements in the occupied territories, the government should have been “sensitive” that peace negotiations were going on with Egypt and waited until they were completed before making the announcement.

Peres, Defense Minister and Acting Premier in the last Labor government, said Israel lost standing “unnecessarily” in world public opinion by the announcement last week of the government of Premier Menachem Begin that it planned to “thicken” existing settlements on the West Bank and Golan Heights. He said sometimes more harm results from “declaring than doing.”

Answering questions from Dr. William Berkowitz, rabbi of Congregation B’nai Jeshurun, Before an overflow crowd at the Manhattan synagogue’s opening session of its annual “Dialogue” series, Peres asserted that the settlements in occupied territory are not illegal and Israel will win support for them as long as it bases its position on security needs rather than religion.

Asked about Begin’s claim that the West Bank belongs to the Jewish people by Biblical right, Peres said while he believes Israel has a Biblical right to the West Bank, there must be a distinction between rights and realities in making policy. The Bible, he added, speaks not only about territory but also refers to such things as peace and “respect for your neighbors.”

Peres said he believes the West Bank should be demilitarized whatever eventually happens to it, that Israel should be selective in establishing settlements and that these settlements should not be in the midst of heavily populated Arab areas. But he said Israel cannot continue governing more than 700,000 Arabs with the highest birthrate in the world and remain a Jewish State. He said that he wants an “Israel that is both Jewish and democratic.”

Earlier, Peres had noted that he has received many letters from American Jews complaining about what they called the “shocking” debates in the Knesset. “I prefer a real country with real democracy even with ‘shocking’ debates,” Peres stressed.

When he was asked about Assistant Secretary of State Harold Saunders’ reported remarks that Israel must relinquish sovereignty over East Jerusalem, Peres declared that all Israelis and Jews agree that Jerusalem must remain a united city, the capital of Israel. He said Israel has a right to disagree with the U.S. just as the U.S. can disagree with Israel “and still remain friends.”

Peres admitted that he had opposed the idea of Camp David because the “less summitry the better off you are.” He said Israel and Egypt should have been able to reach an agreement without heavy U.S. involvement. He said with three parties negotiating, it usually turns into two against one and he didn’t believe Israel was “one of the two.”

But he said he and his party supported the Camp David agreements because “we prefer a real peace based on an imperfect plan rather than a perfect plan with no peace.”

Asked whether he trusted Egyptian President Anwar Sadat on his declaration that he wanted peace, Peres said his basic trust was in the strength of Israel. But, he added, “I would trust his (Sadat’s) decision on peace because I can see the reasons for it.” He explained that Egypt was concerned about Soviet penetration in the Mideast and Africa, it had decided it could not defeat Israel militarily and it needed peace to deal with its economy which was in trouble.

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