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
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
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
“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
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
Settler leaders also condemned the speech.
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
A Labor Party minister praised Peres’s remarks and expressed hope
that Netanyahu would take the president’s advice seriously.
address to the plenum, Kadima leader Tzipi Livni expressed her doubts that he
“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.”
easily survived a series of noconfidence votes sponsored by the opposition later
on Monday night.
Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.