(photo credit: AP)
Neither President Shimon Peres nor Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog believes there will be any kind of miraculous breakthrough at the US-sponsored peace summit in Annapolis.
Peres, who has had considerable experience in negotiating with the Palestinians, told a gathering of prominent members of the United Jewish Communities (UJC) over the weekend that the conference could be a turning point in the peace process.
"If the conference succeeds, it won't be a full success. But if it fails, it will be a complete failure," he said.
Dwelling briefly on negotiating tactics, Peres said: "You must be careful not to win too much from your opponent or he'll run away."
On the other hand, "You musn't lose too much or you'll lose too much support at home," he said, alluding to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
The prime minister must be careful to keep the process going, he added.
As he has done on previous occasions, Peres said that war united people, but the cost of peace divided people.
As for the division of opinions in the negotiations, Peres said: "We have a government with a coalition. The other side has no government and no coalition, which is even worse."
But there is still promise, he said, the principles are known. "But you don't negotiate about principles, you negotiate about details. We have to find pragmatic solutions."
"We will make a supreme effort to overcome the difficulties" in the coming two months, Peres told the UJC gathering at Beit Hanassi.
The two most crucial issues were the Palestinian demand for the right of return and the final status of Jerusalem, Peres said.
"The Palestinians are beginning to realize that no Israeli will agree to commit suicide to satisfy the Palestinians," he said, referencing Israel's objection to the right of return.
He said Israel cannot agree to such a demand because it would radically change the demographic ratio and Israel would cease to be a Jewish state.
Even though he did not expect an immediate solution to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, because "narrowing the gap between the opening and the fallback positions takes time," Peres said he was nonetheless optimistic, citing the good relations between Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. "They have established mutual trust," he said.
"I don't think they'll come up with an agreement in Washington, but they'll reach a benchmark of ideas," said Herzog.
Asked by one of the UJC members what differentiated the Annapolis conference from that of Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat, Herzog said there was no comparison because Camp David was a "summit" with the PA founder, whereas the upcoming conference was a "process" between Olmert, Abbas and PA Prime Minister Salaam Fayad, whom Herzog categorized as "a superb prime minister."