President Shimon Peres stirred a political hornet’s nest Sunday after he publicly rejected the idea that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is not a viable partner for peace and expressed thinly veiled criticisms of former foreign minister Avigdor Liberman.Calling Abbas a “partner for peace,” Peres, during a speech at the President’s Residence opening an annual conference of Israel’s ambassadors, reiterated that there is no alternative to the twostate solution. Otherwise, he said, the reality of the situation will create the alternative.Following his remarks, Likud Beytenu blasted Peres as being disconnected from public opinion. “It’s very unfortunate that the president chose to express a personal political view that is detached from public opinion when it comes to Abbas, who refuses to make peace,” the party said.“It is even more unfortunate that the president chose to present a political stance that encourages criticism of Israel in front of foreign ambassadors,” Likud Beytenu said, adding that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu called several times for Abbas to return to the negotiating table, but Abbas refused and prefers to work against Israel at every opportunity.“Too bad the president did not explain to the ambassadors how his statements sit with the fact that Abbas did not even criticize the shooting of rockets at Israeli civilians [by Hamas],” Likud Beytenu stated.Netanyahu responded only by saying that he has had, and will continue to have, regular consultations with the president.Labor leader Shelly Yacimovich accused Likud Beytenu of crossing a line and behaving erratically due to concerns over a recent drop in poll numbers.“Saying that Peres encourages criticism of Israel in the world is low,” she remarked.“Peres stops attacks on Israel with his own body. He is our best ambassador.”According to Yacimovich, there is a consensus that a two-state solution will help maintain a Jewish majority in the State of Israel and protect the Zionist vision, and that attacking Peres over this topic is “intolerable.”Tzipi Livni, head of The Tzipi Livni Party, said that in her view “President Peres behaved responsibly and said the truth.“This is how someone who thinks Israel is important should behave,” Livni said, calling for Netanyahu to stop his “audacious bullying” of Peres.The prime minister “did not do one-tenth of what Peres did for Israeli security,” she added.Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid said that the current government ignored diplomatic issues and is bequeathing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the next generation.“The only solution is a two-state solution. Rather than create empty headlines, the Likud and its leaders should respect the president of Israel and not use him as a tool at election time to attack [Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali] Bennett from the Right,” Lapid stated.Peres said that with the dramatic changes sweeping the Arab world, Israel can sit passively as things happen around it, or it can take the initiative and with courageous steps positively influence events.The first thing that needs to be done, he said, is to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians “without delay.”“There is a clear majority among the people in favor of the principle of two states for two peoples,” he said. “I have known Abu Mazen [Abbas] for 30 years, and not every one of his words or actions do we uncritically support.”But, the president said, Abbas is the only Arab leader “who stood up and said publicly that he was in favor of peace, and against terrorism.Abu Mazen’s actions to prevent terror are courageous to the point of being life threatening.”Peres, who recommended the diplomats put themselves in Abbas’s shoes, said the statement the PA president made in early November to Channel 2 about not wanting to return to his hometown Safed was an “important statement” that required a great deal of courage.After Hamas blasted Abbas for giving up on the Palestinian “right of return” with that comment, Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh clarified that “the refugees and the right of return are among the final-status issues that will be negotiated with the Israelis.We are committed to the Palestinian principles as endorsed by the Palestine National Council [the PLO’s parliament-in-exile].”He also acknowledged that the interview was aimed at “affecting Israeli public opinion.”Those who do not want two states for two peoples, Peres said, needed to offer an alternative. “A bi-national state endangers the Zionism, Judaism and [the] democracy of Israel,” he said. “I would like us to live together as twins, but in this small land, where hatred, suspicion and cultural differences are so great, that is not possible.”In what seemed like a swipe at Liberman’s tenure as foreign minister, Peres said the role of diplomacy has always been “to enlist friends, not make enemies. My life experience taught me that diplomacy is the art of the possible.”Peres said the country’s diplomatic approach needed to be not one of aggressiveness but rather of moderation and dialogue, “and then what seems impossible will become possible, if we act wisely.”As a diplomat, he added, it was always better to be “a lion in a sheep’s clothing” rather than to be a sheep with a lion’s roar.Peres noted that Israelis were interested in peace, but not all believe it is attainable. He cited the former Czechoslovakia as a good example of a two-state solution, saying the division of the country into two republics – one Czech and the other Slovakian – has proved beneficial, with both sides now flourishing.Peres said he was confident that once the Palestinian issue is resolved, Israel will be able to play a more substantive role in the Middle East. Israel has used science and technology to overcome the challenges posed by a naturally water-scarce land, and the country could share its know-how with the rest of the Middle East, he added.