Notwithstanding the barrage of criticism he encountered on Sunday after telling
heads of Israel’s diplomatic missions abroad that Palestinian Authority
President Mahmoud Abbas is a leader with whom Israel can reach a peace
agreement, President Shimon Peres on Monday persisted with his call for peace
when addressing spiritual and lay leaders of Israel’s Christian
He spoke at the annual Christmas/New Year reception that he
hosts in their honor.
This time, he refrained from mentioning Abbas, but
spoke instead of Hamas, saying that people ask why Israel won’t talk to its
There’s nothing wrong with talking to Hamas, Peres clarified,
but Hamas won’t talk to Israel.
Israel would be willing to talk to Hamas,
if Hamas complied with the three conditions set down by the Mideast Quartet,
namely renunciation of terrorism, recognition of Israel and willingness to
negotiate with Israel, he said.
“They have to decide if they want peace
or war,” said Peres, underscoring that Hamas cannot continue to fire rockets
into Israel without retaliation on Israel’s part. “If they shoot, we shoot,” he
Alluding to last month’s Operation Pillar of Defense aerial war
with the Gaza strip, Peres noted the propensity of critics of Israel to compare
the number of victims on both sides. It would be preferable if there were no
victims on either side, he said.
As for the PA, Peres noted that it has
security forces established with Israel’s approval, and is building up its
economy with Israel’s help.
The effort to make peace with the
Palestinians must be continued, he said. “It’s not a matter of politics, but a
matter of principle.”
He said that the agreement signed between Israel
and the PLO remains intact.
At the outset of his address, Peres expressed
satisfaction with the increasingly good relations between Christians and Jews
that he said were the best that they have been for 2,000 years.
spoke of his respect for Pope Benedict XVI, and his appreciation for the
emphasis on peace and hope that the pope had placed in his Christmas
“If one thing clearly unites all of us it is the prayer and hope
for peace,” said Peres.
“We all have our own ways of worship, but peace
is the unifying factor.”
Peres said that he would like to see an end to
bloodshed and suffering, not only in the Middle East but in the whole world.
“Differences are not a reason for violence,” he said.
“We were born equal
even if we were not born the same, and no one has the right to downgrade or
discriminate against anyone else.”
Peace can be attained in the Middle
East, the president declared, “but we have to act with determination, courage
and honesty to achieve it.”
Greek Patriarch Theophilos III, speaking on
behalf of representatives of all branches of the Christian faith, said that “the
Christian presence is part and parcel of the history of this region, and the
ongoing life of the Churches ensures the sacred uniqueness of Jerusalem and the
religious character of the Holy Land as a whole.”
New realities are
emerging from the unpredictable political and socioeconomic developments in the
region that morally obligate those in the Holy Land to present to the rest of
the region a path that leads to genuine freedom of religion, interreligious
engagement and mutual respect, Theophilos said.
The shared history of
people of different faiths working together “has taught us that the road to
peace is a dynamic process that is not through violence but through
dialogue. It is dialogue that builds trust and mutual acceptance, and
that shows us the way forward,” he said.
Though Christians fare much
better in Israel than in other countries of the region, there are extremist
elements in Israel that desecrate Christian holy sites and hurl expletives at
Christian priests and nuns.
Though gentle and diplomatic in his
complaint, Theophilos could not hide Christian concerns at the attitude of
certain groups that take the law into their own hands for the sole purpose of
causing confusion and disturbing harmonious coexistence.
Peres for the courageous position he had taken against “the sacrilegious acts
that have been directed against the sacred gift of freedom of worship that we
enjoy in our Holy Land.”
Addressing himself directly to Peres, Theophilos
said: “Your actions and stance in condemning strongly all forms of bigotry and
prejudice against places of worship be they Jewish, Christian or Muslim, is a
clear example for all leaders to follow.”
Peres praised the interfaith
work that is being done in the effort to bring about peace.