(photo credit: AP [file])
President Shimon Peres on Wednesday urged Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to accept the Arab peace plan as proposed by the Arab League in Beirut in 2002.
The plan for Israeli withdrawal from all territories occupied since 1967 and the return of the Palestine refugees to Israel in return for recognition of Israel and normal relations with the Arab world. Israel has neither officially accepted nor rejected the plan.
"The Arab Initiative for regional peace has been widely publicized. I do not know of any substitute for comprehensive regional peace, and this peace will also allow us to cope with the Iranian threat to take over the region, which is mainly Arab," Peres said.
The president spoke at Wednesday's changing of the guard ceremony at Beit Hanassi.
In the past, ceremonies for changing heads of administrations were held in the Prime Minister's Office, but moving the ceremony to Beit Hanassi, according to former cabinet secretary Ovad Yehezkel, enhances the importance of the event as well as the status of the president.
Outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said he harbored no anger or bitterness against anyone. For more than half his life time he had functioned under the conviction that he was meant to serve the public, and he did so as a member of Knesset, as mayor of Jerusalem, in a series of ministerial positions and ultimately as the 12th prime minister.
Aside from not bringing home Gilad Schalit, the one thing he was not privileged to do, he said, was to realize his dream "and achieve true peace with our neighbors."
Throughout his entire term, said Olmert, he had worked to bring about peace with the Palestinians and with the Syrians.
Netanyahu paid tribute to his wife, Sarah, who he said had been maligned by media people who had never known her personally. He had felt the need to strengthen and comfort her against these slurs, he said. He had benefitted from her wisdom and compassion, he added, and was ever mindful of her conviction that the strength of a nation is measured by the way in which it treats its weakest sectors.
Turning to Olmert he said: "You are one of the most experienced and talented of people."
Peres was equally gracious.
To Netanyahu he said: "I respect the serious effort you invested in trying to create a broad coalition."
He told Netanyahu that he has a moral obligation to prevent the dismissal of workers, even in the face of a severe economic crisis, and that he must take care of the weak. He also urged the renewal of research and development, the expansion of infrastructure, the development of regional economy, placing greater focus on education and cultural values, completion of a constitution and eradicating organized crime.
Peres wished him well and told him that his government must make a supreme effort to advance the peace process on all fronts. The outgoing government had adopted the American initiative of a two-state solution, which has met with the approval of the majority of countries in the world, and it was now up to the new government to shape the coming reality, Peres said.