New York: A peace of his mind

Peres lost his cool in NY, where he went to confront Ban Ki-Moon over the "unfair" Cast Lead report.

peres big head US 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
peres big head US 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
In November, just days after America voted to send Barack Obama to the White House, President Shimon Peres came to the United Nations and told the world, "Yes, we can too." With Tzipi Livni at his side, Peres announced that he was looking not only for peace with the Palestinians, "but peace with the rest of the Arab world." He had come to town for an interfaith summit convened by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, a meeting that quickly became a forum of eyelash-batting overtures between the Israelis and the Saudi delegation, despite the absence of formal talks. Peres acknowledged then that a deal would probably not be reached by the end of 2008, the date set by outgoing US president George Bush, but said, "We can see the shore of peace closer than ever before." That shore seemed far out of sight this week, when Peres returned to the world body's headquarters on the East River specifically to accuse Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon of commissioning a report into Operation Cast Lead that Israel viewed as "unfair" and "one-sided." The report, released Tuesday, accused the IDF of taking insufficient care to guarantee the "inviolability" of UN and civilian facilities in Gaza - in other words, of intentionally disregarding civilians in its war on Hamas, a claim the IDF has repeatedly and strenuously denied. It was the latest in a string of disappointments for Israel, from the Security Council's adoption of a resolution calling for a cease-fire in Gaza - despite the absence of a Hamas moratorium on Kassam rockets - to last month's conference on racism in Geneva, where Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad accused Israel of genocide against the Palestinians. Meanwhile, Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal told an audience in New York that, while Abdullah still wanted peace with Israel, he would never follow in the footsteps of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat and make a symbolic visit to Jerusalem. In Cairo, Arab leaders were busy negotiating this week with the Quartet about the Saudi peace plan, which has been stalled over the Arab League's insistence that its version include the right of return for Palestinian refugees. BUT IN New York, Peres - always a dove at heart - had the sad look of a wounded bird, as he told reporters after his private meeting with Ban that the Gaza report had nearly prompted a "rift" between Israel and the UN, the very body that once endorsed the establishment of the Jewish state. "What are they thinking? What are they thinking, that we are children? What are they thinking, that Israel woke up one morning and decided to shoot?" he asked, indignantly, noting that it made no mention of Kassam rockets fired into the Negev. A few minutes later, Peres - normally calm and soft-spoken in English - was shouting at a reporter from Al-Jazeera who had challenged him, asking how Israel could continue to claim it was right, when the UN report still said it was wrong. "Excuse me, you want an answer? I know as good as you know," Peres snapped. "How do we explain that we are 1,000 Israelis killed by Hamas! One thousand, two hundred Israelis, civilians, by Hamas, by their missiles! Why should they have been killed? Why should they fire? God... please, explain to me? You feel very strong, explain to me! Why did they fire? What for? Hamas! Oh, yeah, okay, you don't know." With aides tugging at his sleeve, he regained his composure, adding that he had met with Obama earlier in the week in Washington, and felt "the chances for peace were improved." He then repeated what he's said on previous visits - "We don't look upon Arabs as enemies; we don't look upon Muslims as enemies; we respect human life" - before drifting back into a tone that pleaded for sense, and reason, among the world's adults. "We want to have every child, Muslim or Jew, it doesn't matter, to remain safe and alive," he said, clapping his hands with finality before adding, "and let those fanatics stop shooting unnecessarily."