President Shimon Peres faced criticism from the Right at the Knesset for the first time since he was elected president in 2007, when National Union MKs walked out of his speech Monday at the opening meeting of the parliament’s winter session.

Peres endured his share of catcalls during the 48 years he served in the Knesset from 1959 to 2007. But since his ascendance to the presidency, he has made a point of being statesmanlike and relatively apolitical.

The president used his nationally televised speech to the jam-packed plenum to plead with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to not miss what he called a “historic opportunity” to advance the diplomatic process with the Palestinians.

“We are standing before a historic time in which decisions will have to made,” the president said. “In upcoming weeks, efforts will be made to restart negotiations. The current difficulties are merely a corridor en route to the weighty issues ahead.”

Peres said decisions on the core issues of the conflict were unavoidable. He warned that if Israel remained passive it could lead to unending bloodshed and could result in the loss of the country’s Jewish and democratic character.

When Peres added that “there is a majority in this House for two states for two peoples,” National Union lawmakers heckled him. MK Michael Ben-Ari was removed from the plenum after he called Peres an “indefatigable underminer,” the term Yitzhak Rabin used to describe Peres in his autobiography.

The other National Union MKs then walked out to join Ben-Ari. Party chairman Ya’acov Katz said later that he believed the 65 MKs on the Right constituted a majority that opposed a Palestinian state.

“Shimon Peres already caused a grave disaster for Israel when he brought us the murderers of Oslo,” National Union MK Arye Eldad said. “There is no reason to tolerate his blathering when he is supposed to be a symbol of the state and to avoid making political statements.

His speech could cause a rift in the nation that he is supposed to unify.”

A Likud cabinet minister came up to Katz afterward and said he did the right thing by walking out and that Peres’s speech was inappropriate.

Settler leaders also condemned the speech.

“We want to remind Peres of the time when he helped build up the settlement enterprise,” Samaria Citizens’ Committee chairman Benny Katzover said. “It’s a shame that his actions in his old age are an embarrassment when compared with those of his youth.”

A Labor Party minister praised Peres’s remarks and expressed hope that Netanyahu would take the president’s advice seriously.

In her address to the plenum, Kadima leader Tzipi Livni expressed her doubts that he would.



“Your only ideology is what you tell the world: that you have political problems,” Livni told Netanyahu. “There is a majority politically and in the public for a deal if you would want it.”

Netanyahu’s government easily survived a series of noconfidence votes sponsored by the opposition later on Monday night.

Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.

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