The Likud party on Sunday responded to remarks by President Shimon Peres criticizing Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for not finding a partner for peace in Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Likud said in a statement it is "regrettable that the president chooses to express a political opinion that is detached from the Israeli public's position regarding Abbas, who refuses to make peace."
They continued to say it is "even more regrettable that the President chooses to present [these opinions] in front of foreign diplomats, a political stand that encourages condemnation for Israel in the international community," adding that the prime minister has consistently called on Abbas to return to the table, but that Abbas has failed to even condemn the firing of rockets on Israeli citizens by Hamas.
"It is a shame the president did not explain to the foreign diplomats how his comments on Abbas reconcile with the fact [Abbas] did not even condemn the firing of rockets on Israeli citizens," the statement said.
The response follows remarks by Peres on Sunday in his address to some 160 diplomats. Peres said he differed from the view of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu who repeatedly says there is no partner on the other side, and said that he has known Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) for thirty years and is convinced that he is the only Arab leader with whom Israel can conclude an agreement.
Peres acknowledged that not everything that Abbas says and does is beyond reproach, but the fact is Peres underscored, that Abbas is the only Arab leader who has come out openly and said that he wants peace and is opposed to terrorism. Moreover, Peres continued, Abbas has shown commendable courage in preventing terror – even at the risk of his life.
Peres invited the ambassadors to place themselves in Abbas's position, and asked whether they too would be prepared to forfeit the return to their birthplaces. Abbas, who was born in Safed, has stated that he will not return there, Peres pointed out.
Israelis are interested in peace, said Peres, but not all are convinced that it is attainable.
Peres emphasized that if Israel wants to have any influence in the Middle East, it must complete a peace agreement with the Palestinians without delay. A bi-national state, he warned, endangers the Zionist enterprise as well as the Jewish and democratic character of the State of Israel.
Reviewing the turmoil and transition throughout much of the region, Peres said that it was impossible for Israel to influence the Arab world in which nearly every country is engaged in some kind of struggle "which has nothing to do with us".
Peres attributed the changing tide of the Middle East to being part of a global revolution in which what occurs in the city square is more important than what happens in the seat of government.
As a good example of a two state solution, Peres cited the former Czechoslovakia. "The only people who still call themselves Czechoslovakians are Jews," said Peres. But the division of the country into two republics, one Czech and one Slovakian has proved beneficial and both are flourishing.
Peres was confident that once the Palestinian issue is resolved, Israel will be able to play a more substantive role in the Middle East, because like the rest of the Middle East, Israel has land in which the soil does not readily lend itself to cultivation and Israel also suffers from a scarcity of water. The only real difference is that some Arab countries have oil, said Peres and quipped that maybe Yitzhak Tshuva would be instrumental in finding oil for Israel. Science and technology have overcome all agriculture related problems, and Israel would be to share her know how with the rest of the Middle East, said Peres.
Only three questions were allowed from the floor. Concerns were expressed about where Egypt is heading, whether Hamas will take over the Palestinian Authority and what can be done to rekindle American Jewish solidarity with Israel.
Peres, who at the outset of his remarks commented that most of the ambassadors had been children when he first engaged in diplomacy, subsequently described it as an art in which it was better to be a lion in sheep's clothing than to be a sheep with a lion's roar.
Meanwhile, Michael Oren, Israel's ambassador to the United States on Sunday denied media reports to the effect that he had asked to be relieved of duty.
Oren who is on extension of his second two year term told reporters in Jerusalem that there was no truth in the story, adding that it was not the first time that such rumors had surfaced.
He was interviewed at the opening of the Foreign Ministry's fourth annual Heads of Israeli Missions Conference which will continue through January 3.
Notwithstanding reports about cracks in the relationship between the US and Israel, Oren said that according to the most recent surveys American support for Israel was at all time high, not only amongst the public but also with regard to the administration and Congress. Support for Israel is always one of the bipartisan issues in the US he said.
In response to a question about construction on the West Bank, Oren replied that the Americans were not particularly angry on this score. It has been a matter of dispute for a long time he said but there can be differences among even the best of friends, he noted,
Stills photographers and television camera crews focused primarily on Yossi Gal, Israel's ambassador to France and a former director general of the Foreign Ministry who sat on the ministry's appointments committee which was allegedly influenced by then Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman who wanted to appoint Zev Ben Aryeh Israel's former ambassador to Belarus to the position of ambassador to Latvia.
Ben Aryeh has been convicted of breach of trust for passing classified information to Liberman about police investigations pertaining to the latter. It was believed in some quarters that the appointment to Latvia was Liberman's way of rewarding him. Liberman did not report the incident and on Sunday was charged with fraud and breach of public trust. Gal can either corroborate or deny statements made by Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon insofar as what Liberman did or did not do. Ayalon has given two conflicting versions of the story.
Also in focus was Israel's ambassador to China Matan Vilnai who received his appointment just in time to avoid being a victim of the collapse of the short-lived Independence Party headed by Defense Minister Ehud Barak who has announced his withdrawal from political life.
Vilnai declined to be interviewed but when asked whether he preferred being a politician to being a diplomat, he mumbled that he liked what he was doing now.
Oren who overheard the question and the answer laughed and commented that it was all politics.