President Shimon Peres on Thursday called on Israeli and Palestinian leaders to make “historic decisions” in order to resolve the ongoing conflict and strike a peace agreement.
“This is a time for historic decisions, not political ones,” Peres said during a joint press conference with former UK prime minister and current official Middle East Quartet Envoy to the Middle East Tony Blair in Jerusalem.
The meeting between Israel’s elder statesman and the Quartet envoy came amid heightened tensions between Israel and the Palestinians after six months of peace talks moderated by the United States.
Senior Israeli officials, including Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Finance Minister Yair Lapid, as well as US Secretary of State John Kerry, have recently warned that absent an agreement leading to two states, Israel will face a severe backlash and be isolated economically and politically from the international community.
“We are now facing the most crucial time since the establishment of the new Middle East in 1948. Since then the world has changed considerably, but one thing reminds me of the beginning and that is the importance of the decisions,” Peres added.
“We all have to understand that we don’t have unlimited time and to understand that the wrong decision is irreversible. We have an opportunity to make the right decision, which is a two-state solution, a Jewish state called Israel and an Arab state called Palestine. I know you share the feeling of the weight of the decision.”
For his part, Blair endorsed the president’s statements, and said he believed achieving peace was within reach.
“I believe this is a profound moment for the opportunity to make peace. I hope on all sides there is the courage, vision and determination to move forward,” Blair said.
“We’re all striving very hard and, particularly with all the turmoil, this is the right moment to create out of this part of the Middle East some sense of hope based on the principles of societies that are open-minded and tolerant, and economies that are modern and offer opportunity for our young people.”
Peres thanked the former UK prime minister for his involvement in the peace process, and said progress had stepped up as a result of Blair’s initiatives.
“I want to compliment the work you are doing to move the economic and political side forward together and we can see moves in the right direction which will facilitate the making of political decisions,” said Peres.
“You are doing your work constantly and quietly. There are developments in the West Bank which wouldn’t happen without your initiative.”
New York Times foreign affairs columnist Thomas Friedman wrote Wednesday that Kerry’s pending framework for Israeli-Palestinian peace would include a shared capital in Jerusalem and recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.
The “Kerry Plan,” as he called it, would also include land swaps based on the 1967 lines, security arrangements in the Jordan Valley, and no “right of return” to Israel for Palestinian refugees and their descendants.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has said that he will not recognize Israel as a Jewish state or negotiate away the rights of Palestinian refugees.
Several Israeli politicians and a host of pundits have said they believe Israel will be blamed if the current round of talks with the Palestinians fails to produce an agreement.