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'Now's the time for peace with the Palestinians'
By STEVE LINDE
25/04/2012
In pre-Independence Day interview with 'The Jerusalem Post', president Peres expresses confidence in PA's Abbas.
 
Israel has never faced a better opportunity to reach a peace deal with the Palestinians than it has today under the leadership of PA President Mahmoud Abbas, President Shimon Peres told The Jerusalem Post in a pre-Independence Day interview on Tuesday.

“I think the Palestinian window is still open,” Peres said. “Everybody makes mistakes in his sayings and doings, but President Abbas is constant in his announced position – for peace, against terror, and for a two-state solution. I think we have never had a wider basis to conclude peace than under his leadership.”

Peres and Abbas were the architects of the Oslo Accords two decades ago, for which Peres received a Nobel Peace Prize together with Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat.

Peres added that the need for a new peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians was “immediate,” and suggested that it could represent “a real contribution to pacify... the stormy Middle East.”

On Iran, he said he believed that US President Barack Obama would not allow “an extreme group of people” to build a nuclear bomb.

“I think Israel owes a great deal of appreciation to its unbelievable friends all over the world, beginning with the United States of America, and her president, Obama,” Peres said. “President Obama, during his tenure as president, did everything he promised to strengthen the security of the State of Israel, [thereby] deterring the danger of war and helping to advance the chances of peace.”

Obama, in a letter to Peres for the country’s 64th Independence Day on Thursday, reiterated Washington’s “steadfast” commitment to Israel.

“Based on shared values and interests, the bonds between our two countries are deep and strong,” Obama wrote. “In a time of momentous change, the United States remains steadfast in its commitment to Israel’s security and a comprehensive peace in the region.”

He added that “as we work together to pursue common goals and meet shared challenges, I wish the State of Israel continued prosperity and a peaceful future.”

Obama sent his “warmest regards and congratulations on behalf of the American people.”

Speaking at a Remembrance Day ceremony at the Western Wall on Tuesday night, Peres said the sons and daughters of Israel who had died in battle had paid the highest and most painful price for its establishment, its existence and its security.

While Israel most certainly exists today, he said, its peace is still under threat from those who want to destroy it, but it is now stronger than ever.

“If the need arises, we will know how to defend the country yet again,” he said. “Today, we are more prepared. We are stronger. We are greater in number. The IDF of today is mightier than ever before, smarter in strategy and equipped with the most sophisticated technology.”

At the same time, he emphasized, the IDF is a moral army with quality personnel. “We know that, and our enemies have experienced that in the past.”

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The following are excerpts from Peres’s interview with the Post, conducted in English:

What is your Independence Day message to the world this year?

I would like to use the good offices of The Jerusalem Post to thank our very many friends all over the world. You know, from time to time, we voice some criticism about foreign countries and foreign people, but I think Israel owes a great deal of appreciation to its unbelievable friends all over the world, beginning with the United States of America, and her president, Obama. The United States stood and stands on the side of Israel all these 64 years of our independence, helping us to face great and almost impossible challenges.

President Obama, during his tenure as president, did everything he promised to strengthen the security of the State of Israel, [thereby] deterring the danger of war and helping to advance the chances of peace.

The American support is bipartisan, and we thank all parties and all people who help us and understand us so much.

Do you think Israel can rely on the Obama administration when it comes to Iran?

Yes. I think it’s not a matter of Israel relying on America, because America herself sees a nuclear Iran as a world problem, a danger to the peace and security in the world. I think there’s no American leader, and clearly that’s the view of President Obama, that can accept a nuclear bomb in the hands of an extreme group of people.... I think that the president explained in clear words his strategy concerning Iran, that there are two ends: One says we cannot live with a nuclear Iran. The other is that we would like to stop it by civilian means, but all options are on the table. I think clearer than that it cannot be said for the time being.

Are you concerned about the situation with Egypt and the gas line?

Egypt is facing tremendous challenges, and as an Israeli I wouldn’t say anything that can bring or create any embarrassment to Egypt. I think Egypt has to find her own course. And we pray that she will be able to find her way so that she can escape the real problems that she is facing – problems of food, water, security and of peace.... I’m surely concerned, but I’m also praying for a stronger Egypt, a united Egypt, a modern Egypt.

What about the situation with the Palestinians and the latest crisis over the Ulpana outpost?

I think the Palestinian window is still open. Everybody makes mistakes in his sayings and doings, but President Abbas is constant in his announced position for peace against terror, and for a two-state solution. I think we have never had a wider basis to conclude peace than under his leadership. I think he’s a responsible leader. I think the Palestinians have a very impressive group of leaders. It doesn’t mean that everything they say, we will accept and do, and everything we say, they will agree with. But I think the base for an agreement is wide. The need for it is immediate, and this can be a real contribution to pacify a little bit the stormy Middle East.

Finally, what is your message to the people of Israel this Independence Day?

Sixty-four years ago, we had a great dream. Sixty-four years later, the reality has exceeded the dream. I would like that we shall have a new dream, as great as is possible, and let our youngsters make the dream in another few decades look smaller than the new reality that we shall create in the domain of values, science, friendship and peace. I mean the achievements are really far greater than the ones I recall that we had as a dream in the early days. That shows that we have a small land and a great people. And greatness doesn’t have limits.

Greer Fay Cashman contributed to this report.
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