The Israeli statesman Shimon Peres, who died late last month at the age of 93, once told former prime minister and founder of the Likud party Menachem Begin that he was against a Palestinian state and that “Jordan is also Palestine.”
Though he served as defense minister and was considered a hawk in his early years in politics, rejecting any compromise with hostile Arab states, Peres later became the face of the country’s peace movement, carrying on the legacy of slain prime minister Yitzhak Rabin who was his partner in working on the Oslo Accords with the Palestinians led by Yasser Arafat.
Peres had said he was converted to dovishness after 1977, when Egyptian president Anwar Sadat made a historic visit to Jerusalem, leading to the first Arab-Israeli peace treaty. Peres gained international recognition for his Nobel Peace Prize, and late in life, became a virtual celebrity as he traveled around the globe preaching a message of peace and coexistence.
In newly declassified minutes of an August 31, 1978 meeting once labeled “top secret” and published by Haaretz on Tuesday, Peres, who was then head of the Israeli opposition, and prime minister Begin discuss the upcoming Camp David conference where, days later, Begin would sign on to a framework for a peace deal with Egypt that would change history.
The meeting was also attended by the then head of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Moshe Arens, also of the Likud.
Ahead of the conference, Begin had invited Peres for a sit-down on the key issues they expected would be brought up at Camp David, including Palestinian autonomy, Jerusalem, the military presence in the West Bank, the 1967 lines and settlements in the Sinai Peninsula.
“Jordan is also Palestine… I’m against two Arab countries and against another Palestinian country, against an Arafat state. Today 50 percent of the inhabitants of Jordan are Palestinians and that is the Palestinian state… say our partner is the Jordanians and not the Palestinians,” Peres tells Begin, adding that, one day, “there will be a need for a partition because we won’t know what to do with the Arabs.”
He said Gazans should be given Jordanian passports and that Jordanian King Hussein should take in Palestinian refugees.
Late in the meeting, Peres said he did not consider the Palestinians partners for peace “because they don’t want to risk their connections with Jordan on the one hand, and act against the PLO on the other,”
He said he felt the Jordanians should extend their patronage over the Palestinians “because they can do to the PLO things that we can never do.”
Earlier that decade, the PLO led by Arafat came into open conflict with Jordanian armed forces in a period known as Black September and in which thousands of Palestinians were killed.
By the end of the violent conflict, the PLO was pushed out of major cities in Jordan and the king had consolidated his power.