After coming under fire from right-wing Israeli politicians for a series of statements he made over the past few days regarding the peace process and the prospect of talks with Hamas, President Shimon Peres on Tuesday was subjected to an unexpected tongue lashing — from a top Palestinian Authority official.
“He’s meddling in Palestinian politics and deciding who can and who can’t be a party to talks,” said Saeb Erekat, the chief PA negotiator. Peres had said on Monday that Israel should negotiate with Hamas, provided that the Islamist rulers of the Gaza Strip meet certain conditions.
“When a peace deal is signed, it will be signed between the elected officials of the Israeli people and the elected officials of the Palestinian people,” Erekat told the Hebrew-language daily Maariv. “The Palestinian people don’t decide who gets elected by the Israelis, and Israel can’t decide who’ll represent the Palestinian people.”
Despite persistent attempts at reconciliation, the Islamic Hamas has by and large been locked in bitter conflict with PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s secular Fatah party, which rules the Palestinian-controlled areas in the West Bank. Thus, Peres’s comments could be perceived as indicating a readiness to go behind Abbas’s back.
“People ask, why not talk with Hamas? There is nothing wrong, if you get a reply,” Peres had told an assembly of Christian leaders in Jerusalem. “We are willing to talk to Hamas, but they aren’t [willing to talk to us].”
However, the president continued, in order for dialogue to take place, Hamas must “accept the conditions of the Quartet [the US, the UN, EU and Russia],” which include the cessation of terror, a recognition of Israel, and the acceptance of agreements previously signed between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
On Sunday, the president was pummeled by the Israeli right for another set of comments that were perceived as meddling in Israeli politics ahead of the January 22 elections. Peres had expressed support for Abbas as a partner for peace and called for the renewal of talks to reach a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“You can reach an agreement with Abbas… one of the only leaders in the Arab world to publicly and boldly say that he supports peace and a demilitarized state, and opposes terrorism,” Peres said at Beit Hanassi — the president’s residence — during a meeting of Israeli ambassadors.
The dovish elder statesman took a series of swipes at recently resigned foreign minister Avigdor Liberman, who would have been hosting the event had he not stepped down earlier in December to fight an indictment for corruption.
“The role of diplomacy is to make friends, not to deceive enemies,” Peres told the audience, in an apparent allusion to Liberman’s conduct as foreign minister. “In diplomacy, it’s always better to be a lion in sheep’s clothing than a sheep with a lion’s roar that scares the entire world.”
On Tuesday, despite his criticism of the president for evoking the prospect of talks with Hamas, Erekat seemed to echo Peres — albeit more dismissively — in his castigation of Likud-Yisrael Beytenu rhetoric vis-a-vis the Palestinians.
“The things they say in Likud about alternative Palestinian leadership are no more than electioneering, and nothing to be taken seriously,” he said. “We know all about the Israel elections system, and understand that politicians say things with an eye to gaining political capital.”
As for Liberman, Erekat continued, “we know he’s an extremist — there’s nothing new about that.”
Gabe Fisher contributed to this report.