President Shimon Peres stirred a political hornet’s nest Sunday after he
publicly rejected the idea that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is
not a viable partner for peace and expressed thinly veiled criticisms of former
foreign minister Avigdor Liberman.
Calling Abbas a “partner for peace,”
Peres, during a speech at the President’s Residence opening an annual conference
of Israel’s ambassadors, reiterated that there is no alternative to the twostate
solution. Otherwise, he said, the reality of the situation will create the
Following his remarks, Likud Beytenu blasted Peres as being
disconnected from public opinion. “It’s very unfortunate that the president
chose to express a personal political view that is detached from public opinion
when it comes to Abbas, who refuses to make peace,” the party said.
is even more unfortunate that the president chose to present a political stance
that encourages criticism of Israel in front of foreign ambassadors,” Likud
Beytenu said, adding that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu called several times
for Abbas to return to the negotiating table, but Abbas refused and prefers to
work against Israel at every opportunity.
“Too bad the president did not
explain to the ambassadors how his statements sit with the fact that Abbas did
not even criticize the shooting of rockets at Israeli civilians [by Hamas],”
Likud Beytenu stated.
Netanyahu responded only by saying that he has had,
and will continue to have, regular consultations with the
Labor leader Shelly Yacimovich accused Likud Beytenu of
crossing a line and behaving erratically due to concerns over a recent drop in
“Saying that Peres encourages criticism of Israel in the
world is low,” she remarked.
“Peres stops attacks on Israel with his own
body. He is our best ambassador.”
According to Yacimovich, there is a
consensus that a two-state solution will help maintain a Jewish majority in the
State of Israel and protect the Zionist vision, and that attacking Peres over
this topic is “intolerable.”
Tzipi Livni, head of The Tzipi Livni Party,
said that in her view “President Peres behaved responsibly and said the
“This is how someone who thinks Israel is important should
behave,” Livni said, calling for Netanyahu to stop his “audacious bullying” of
The prime minister “did not do one-tenth of what Peres did for
Israeli security,” she added.
Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid said that the
current government ignored diplomatic issues and is bequeathing the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the next generation.
“The only solution
is a two-state solution. Rather than create empty headlines, the Likud and its
leaders should respect the president of Israel and not use him as a tool at
election time to attack [Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali] Bennett from the Right,”
Peres said that with the dramatic changes sweeping the Arab world, Israel can
sit passively as things happen around it, or it can take the initiative and with
courageous steps positively influence events.
The first thing that needs
to be done, he said, is to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians
“There is a clear majority among the people in favor of
the principle of two states for two peoples,” he said. “I have known Abu Mazen
[Abbas] for 30 years, and not every one of his words or actions do we
But, the president said, Abbas is the only Arab
leader “who stood up and said publicly that he was in favor of peace, and
Abu Mazen’s actions to prevent terror are courageous
to the point of being life threatening.”
Peres, who recommended the
diplomats put themselves in Abbas’s shoes, said the statement the PA president
made in early November to Channel 2 about not wanting to return to his hometown
Safed was an “important statement” that required a great deal of
After Hamas blasted Abbas for giving up on the Palestinian
“right of return” with that comment, Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh
clarified that “the refugees and the right of return are among the final-status
issues that will be negotiated with the Israelis.
We are committed to the
Palestinian principles as endorsed by the Palestine National Council [the PLO’s
He also acknowledged that the interview was aimed
at “affecting Israeli public opinion.”
Those who do not want two states
for two peoples, Peres said, needed to offer an alternative. “A bi-national
state endangers the Zionism, Judaism and [the] democracy of Israel,” he said. “I
would like us to live together as twins, but in this small land, where hatred,
suspicion and cultural differences are so great, that is not
In what seemed like a swipe at Liberman’s tenure as foreign
minister, Peres said the role of diplomacy has always been “to enlist friends,
not make enemies. My life experience taught me that diplomacy is the art of the
Peres said the country’s diplomatic approach needed to be not
one of aggressiveness but rather of moderation and dialogue, “and then what
seems impossible will become possible, if we act wisely.”
As a diplomat,
he added, it was always better to be “a lion in a sheep’s clothing” rather than
to be a sheep with a lion’s roar.
Peres noted that Israelis were
interested in peace, but not all believe it is attainable. He cited the former
Czechoslovakia as a good example of a two-state solution, saying the division of
the country into two republics – one Czech and the other Slovakian – has proved
beneficial, with both sides now flourishing.
Peres said he was confident
that once the Palestinian issue is resolved, Israel will be able to play a more
substantive role in the Middle East. Israel has used science and technology to
overcome the challenges posed by a naturally water-scarce land, and the country
could share its know-how with the rest of the Middle East, he added.