Amir Peretz 298.88.
(photo credit: Ori Porat)
While official Israeli policy is not to talk to Hamas, Defense Minister Amir Peretz hinted Monday at the Herzliya Conference that he would be willing to start a dialogue with the group even if he had to skip over a vital condition set by the international Quartet that calls on Hamas to stop supporting terror activity.
"Every Palestinian contact that recognizes Israel, I see as a partner in negotiations - even if we're speaking of Hamas," Peretz said at the Institute for Policy and Strategy of the IDC Herzliya, while not mentioning the two other conditions set by the Quartet - a cessation of terror activity and the recognition of previous Israel-Palestinian Authority peace agreements.
Speaking about the war between Israel and Hizbullah, Peretz defended the role of the security establishment.
"Despite some mistakes, there were important achievements during the war," he said. "In the end, we changed the reality in southern Lebanon. We proved that the threats of rockets, the kidnappings and the terror are not capable of leaving us paralyzed and helpless - and furthermore, we exposed the plans of Iran and Syria."
Moving back to the topic of the Palestinians, Peretz called for the government to more seriously address the issue.
"We need to place an emphasis on the Palestinian sphere," Peretz said. "We must not stagnate while Hamas grows more powerful."
In addition, Peretz reiterated his three-stage peace plan that entails detailed and comprehensive negotiations for 18 months following the release of abducted IDF Cpl. Gilad Shalit.
"The convergence plan is no more, and we must form a new political plan," Peretz said. "The Labor Party will submit a new plan to the government merging the road map with the Saudi plan. It is important that Arab states be partners in realizing this plan."
Earlier in the day, former IDF chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. (ret.) Moshe Ya'alon voiced skepticism over the chances of a Palestinian state being formed.
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who, like Peretz, has recommended variations on the road map, told the Herzliya Conference that she favored discussions with the Palestinians now so both sides can have a better sense of where they stand and know what to expect from the other before formal negotiations begin.
Livni has for the past few weeks advocated discussions with the Palestinians to create a "political horizon" even before the Palestinians implement the first stage of the road map.
Discussions with the Palestinians did not weaken Israel as long as there was a realization that Israel would use force when necessary, she said.
Livni, meanwhile, called on the international community to demand that the values they hold dear be enforced by the Palestinians "as a way of strengthening the moderates and weakening the extremists."
Herb Keinon contributed to this report.