President Shimon Peres, in one of his final duties before leaving office today, held a 50 minutes breakfast meeting on Wednesday with United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon.
Ban’s entourage included Ron Prosor, Israel’s ambassador to the UN.
Whereas in the past Peres has placed the blame on Iran for financing and encouraging Hamas terror operations, on this occasion he charged Qatar, saying that Qatar had no right to spend millions of petrol dollars to enable Hamas to build rockets and tunnels instead of developing Gaza.
In welcoming Ban as a statesman, Peres thanked him for the friendship he has shown towards Israel and declared: “Now we have to stand together and reject the danger and ugliness of terrorism”.
Every country has the obligation to protect itself against attack and attempts to kill innocent civilians, said Peres. “No state in the world would be willing to accept rockets fired at its mothers and children from the sky and terrorists emerging from tunnels to kill innocent people for no reason and with no justification.”
Peres voiced regret at the suspension of flights to Israel by international airline companies. “The real answer is not to stop flights but to stop rockets which are endangering air traffic in the whole world. Freedom of flying is as important as freedom of speech,” he said. “If airlines submit, they invite more rocket fire” which he said would pose a greater danger not only to Israel but to the whole world.
Peres who has consistently spoken out against the dangers of terrorist organizations said that terrorist groups are holding their people hostage not only in Gaza but all over the Middle East. “They are committed to death and destruction.” Citing Hamas as one such organization, Peres said that instead of investing in education, healthcare and building for Gaza’s future, it had wasted millions of dollars on rockets and tunnels. Gaza could have become a center of trade, he said, but Hamas had turned it into a center of terror. “The people of Gaza could have been given hope, but instead Hamas brought them destruction”.
Hamas built an infrastructure of terror beneath schools and kindergartens Peres continued, uses hospitals from which to launch attacks and use their children as human shields. They even used UNWRA schools in which to store their rockets.
Emphasizing that Israel wants to see an end to bloodshed, Peres said that both personally as a human being and as the head of state, he was pained by the deaths of innocent civilians. Israel sanctifies life, while Hamas glorifies death he said, as he attributed responsibility for the deaths in Gaza to Hamas. Israel has no wish to see innocent civilians harmed, he said, “but we should not and can not let up in our fight against terrorism, against rockets and tunnels”.
Hamas is performing criminal acts against its own people as well as the people of Israel, stated Peres. “Terrorism will never bring peace and will never bring victory” he said. “Death is not a future. The way to peace is through negotiations, dialogue and compromise.”
Repeating his warning of the dangers of terror, Peres said: “The fight against terror is global. No country will be immune to the threat of terror if we don’t fight it together.”
In concluding, Peres said that he saluted the soldiers who are fighting to protect Israel, and he salutes the citizens who stand steadfast in the face of threats. He also thanked the friends of Israel who have stood by her side in this time of crisis.
Ban said that it was a great honor for him to be joining Peres as he concludes his term as president. He said that he had the deepest admiration and respect for Peres’s leadership, his dedication to his country and his commitments to human rights, peace and security. “I wish we could have met at a more peaceful moment” he said, adding that he had been compelled to come to the Middle East at this time “on an urgent mission for peace and solidarity”.
He had hoped when he first became Secretary General of the UN, to see peace evolve in his time. “It pains me to see that violence is continuing” he said. “We have failed to bring peace and security” he conceded, but pledged that the UN will continue in its efforts to bring about peace. “The firing must stop immediately and negotiations must begin” Ban insisted.
Ban voiced solidarity with the civilians in Gaza as well as Israelis living under the fear of rocket attacks. He had repeatedly condemned these attacks and will continue to do so, he said.
But at the same time he was sensitive to the deep pain and anguish among the Palestinians, with more than 600 killed and more than 3,000 injured in Israeli air strikes. “I cannot be silent in the face of this tragedy” he said. “I grieve over the loss of innocent lives and mourn with the families”.
He praised Peres as a strong advocate for an end to occupation and the daily humiliation that comes with occupation, and concurred with Peres that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is the best partner for peace for Israel.
Turning to Peres, Ban said: “You may be leaving office, but you will never retire.”
Confident that Peres will continue to strive for peace, Ban, who like Peres is an advocate of the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, said: “Let us deliver a future that Israelis and Palestinians so richly deserve”.