DEAD SEA, Jordan — President Shimon Peres on Sunday said even Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is convinced that Israel should seize the opportunity created by a US-led attempt to revive the peace process.
“I don’t want to speak for the prime minister — he speaks for himself — but I got the clear impression that he, like me, understands the opportunity which has been created,” Peres said.
On Friday, Netanyahu met Peres at the President’s Residence for a working meeting in which the two leaders discussed the recent efforts by US Secretary of State John Kerry to revitalize the stalled peace process.
On Sunday, Peres traveled to Jordan to participate at the World Economic Forum. On the sidelines of the conference, he also met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and other world leaders.
“A window of opportunity has opened. I don’t know how long it will stay open,” he told Israeli reporters about the chances of restarting peace talks. “In actual fact a number of windows have opened,” he said, referring to Kerry’s efforts and a new peace initiative by Israeli and Palestinian business leaders launched Sunday at the conference.
Earlier on Sunday, top Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said his side would only agree to resume peace negotiations if Israel freezes settlement construction and declares that the pre-1967 lines would be the starting point for negotiations.
“There is an opportunity” for a renewal of talks, Peres said. “It’s not yet happened but the effort being undertaken by everyone is to take the opportunity and make it reality.”
Asked about Erekat’s demands, Peres said there were several ways to revitalize negotiations. “I believe that Saeb Erekat expressed their opening position. Every side has an opening position and we talk to try and bring those positions closer. It’s something I’m used to; we always start from disagreement and the aim of negotiations is to reach an agreement.”
Earlier on Sunday, Peres told reporters that an “urgent” peace agreement should be achieve based on the two-state solution.
Asked if he was speaking on behalf of the Israeli government — considering that some members of Netanyahu’s cabinet are vocal opponents of a two-state solution — Peres responded, “I’ll tell you a secret: I am an Israeli, and it just so happens that I’m the president of Israel.”
Minister of Intelligence Yuval Steinitz criticized Peres for his comments, saying the president, whose authority does not extend to matters of policy, should not be expressing opinions on the desired objectives of the peace process.
“I didn’t know Peres aspired to be the government’s spokesman,” Steinitz said in mock surprise ahead of the weekly Cabinet meeting in Jerusalem. “Any statement on the eve of negotiations of this sort — how shall we put this gently? — is unhelpful.”
Later Sunday Peres was to deliver a speech at the closing plenary of the World Economic Forum entitled “Breaking the Impasse,” which was also to feature addresses by Kerry, Abbas and Jordan’s King Abdullah.