Peres: Iran is greatest threat to Mideast peace

Speaking alongside Fayyad at Davos, president says he believes we're "closer than we think" to reaching peace with Palestinians.

President Shimon Peres with PA Prime Minister Fayyad 390 (photo credit: President's Office)
President Shimon Peres with PA Prime Minister Fayyad 390
(photo credit: President's Office)
President Shimon Peres voiced hope on Thursday that progress could be achieved soon in Israeli- Palestinian negotiations, saying peace might come “sooner than we think.”
Peres and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad offered contrasting views of the peace process at the World Economic Forum in Davos, after the latest round of preliminary talks between the sides concluded in Amman.
“In the negotiations the gap was seriously narrowed, and neither the Palestinians nor the Israelis have any choice but to make peace,” Peres said. “We need a bouquet of agreements, which won’t cover all the issues, to enable the Palestinians and Israel to keep open the negotiations.
I believe if we negotiate, peace will come maybe sooner than we think.”
A more downbeat Fayyad said at the forum the peace process “has never been this lacking in focus,” and the “conditions are actually not right, or ripe, for the resumption of the political process.”
“Right now, one would have to work really hard to be hopeful,” said Fayyad.
Israel’s envoy to the talks in Jordan, Yitzhak Molcho, outlined Wednesday night for the Palestinians the principles and parameters that will guide Israel’s policy on border issues, an Israeli government official said on Thursday.
According to the official, Molcho did not draw a line on a map, but rather spoke in general principles about what Israel would take into consideration when drawing that line.
Israel’s presentation of the principles guiding its thinking on the border issues follows a similar presentation Israel gave the Palestinians Saturday night in Amman outlining the principles guiding its thinking on security issues.
Under the Quartet formula drawn up on September 23 for bringing the sides to the negotiating table, both Israel and the Palestinians were to present each other with comprehensive proposals on those two issues within 90 days. According to the Palestinians, that 90-day period expired on Thursday, while Israel – which believes that the period did not start until direct talks began in Amman earlier this month – that period does not end until the beginning of April.
In an apparent effort to preempt Palestinian claims that Israel refuses to deal with the border issue, the official said Israel “is dealing with the issues that the Quartet believes are important.”
He said that both sides asked for clarification from the other regarding issues that were raised.
“Israel’s position remains that within the framework of a peace process moving forward, we are ready for mutual confidence measures. But the talks must be without preconditions.”
One of the steps the Palestinians are asking for is a release of Fatah prisoners held in Israeli jails. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has made clear that one of the steps he expects from the Palestinian side is an end to incitement within the Palestinian Authority.
The official said that the current talks in Amman are indeed in a preliminary stage, and that Israel’s position is that it was important to “let the talks reach fruition, and not cut them off early.”
“Israel remains committed to the Quartet framework,” the official said. “It is ready to move forward according to its timetable, and is ready for substantive talks on core issues. We hope this is not stifled at the very beginning.”
No date for another round of talks was set after Wednesday night’s meeting.
The Quartet has set the end of 2012 as a deadline for reaching an agreement.
The official acknowledged that the sides were talking about gestures they could make to each other to improve the atmosphere.
Netanyahu spoke by phone Thursday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, thanking her for supporting the ratcheting up of EU sanctions against Iran earlier this week. He has already held similar conversations over the last few days with British Prime Minister David Cameron and with French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Israeli officials said that Europe very much wants to see the Amman talks continue, and that Merkel is expected to relay this message to PA President Mahmoud Abbas in the coming days.
Fayyad, an economist who previously worked for the International Monetary Fund, said the international community was needed as a mediator in the process, and should also be providing the Palestinian Authority with more resources in its statebuilding efforts.
Fayyad placed the ball firmly in Israel’s court, blaming the lack of progress on its military incursions into areas under PA control and restrictions on Palestinian movement in the rest of the West Bank that remains under Israeli control.
Given those actions, and 18 years after the Oslo peace process was launched, it is unclear what Peres means by his support for a two-state solution, Fayyad said.
“What kind of state does he have in mind when he says ‘Palestinian state’?” he asked.
“To be clear about what we mean by that: We are looking for an independent, viable state of Palestine on the territories occupied in 1967,” added Fayyad.
Bloomberg and Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.