Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is one of the only Arab leaders with whom Israel can reach an agreement, President Shimon Peres said Sunday, calling for renewed peace talks and making veiled critiques of Israel’s political leaders.
“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 — at a meeting of Israeli ambassadors ahead of an annual Foreign Ministry conference.
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 quit earlier this month to fight corruption allegations. “I am entitled to my opinions,” Peres said. “I did not come here from a far away dacha.”
Participants said the audience of Israeli diplomats laughed at the reference to Liberman, who immigrated to Israel from the former Soviet republic of Moldova in 1979. Danny Ayalon, the deputy foreign minister who was effectively leading the diplomats at the event — and who was unexpectedly cut by Liberman from their Yisrael Beytenu Knesset slate earlier this month, and is to testify against Liberman in the corruption case — maintained an impassive demeanor, participants said.
“The role of diplomacy is to make friends, not to deceive enemies,” Peres told the audience, in another apparent allusion to the conduct as foreign minister of Liberman, who was indicted on fraud and breach of trust charges Sunday. “In diplomacy, it’s always better to be a lion in the skin of a sheep, than a sheep with a lion’s roar that scares the whole world.”
The president said that he has known Abbas for 30 years and “no one” could change his mind about the Palestinian leader, while admitting that Abbas has been highly critical of Israel.
“We don’t need to hug and praise him,” he said.
High-level talks between Israel and the Palestinians have been frozen since a stillborn attempt in 2010 to reach an agreement.
Israel has called for the Palestinians to come to the table with no preconditions, while Ramallah maintains that settlement construction must stop before it will negotiate.
Peres said that “there is no alternative” to a two-state solution and called on the ruling Likud party state this explicitly in the party platform. He added there was a clear majority among the Israeli public that supports a Palestinian state existing side by side with a Jewish one.
“If someone rejects the idea of a two-state solution, he should say what he has in its place,” Peres said. “Even If you do not have another option… reality will bring the alternative. I tell you categorically that the idea of a binational state endangers the Jewish, Zionist and democratic nature of Israel.”
Peres rejected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s oft-repeated demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state as a precondition for talks. “I do not need to define the nature of a Palestinian state,” he said. “And they do not need to define our character. It is undeniable.”