Israel should negotiate with Hamas provided the Islamic terrorist group meets certain conditions, President Shimon Peres said on Monday, just a day after he precipitated a political firestorm by calling for renewed negotiations for a two-state solution with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
“People ask, why not talk with Hamas? There is nothing wrong, if you get a reply,” Peres said, speaking to an assembly of Christian leaders. “We are willing to talk to Hamas, but they aren’t [willing to talk to us].”
However, Peres stipulated that 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 previous agreements signed between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
“These are not conditions set by us, but by the international community,” he said.
“Hamas and Gaza must decide what they want — war or peace,” the president said. “If they want to build, Israel will be glad to see them succeed. It does not give us satisfaction to see citizens in Gaza suffer. If they don’t fire, they won’t be fired on.”
Peres added that the recent influx of aid money into Gaza from Qatar must be used for construction, not rockets.
“Peace is not just a dream… it is a goal that can be promoted, and we must do so with courage and honesty,” Peres said, noting Israel’s peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan and the ongoing “peace process” with the Palestinians.
Israel will “not give up” the attempt to achieve peace with its neighbors, he said, calling such efforts “a matter of principle” rather than a political issue.
Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz also said Monday that Israel should talk with Hamas if it accepted the international preconditions.
On Sunday, the ruling Likud party lashed out at Peres after the president called for renewed negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, and said the elder statement’s support for a two-state solution was divorced from public opinion.
“It’s unfortunate the president chose to express a personal political opinion disconnected from the Israeli public’s stance,” Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan said.
Peres had expressed support for Abbas as a partner for peace and called for renewed talks to reach a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Erdan decried Peres’s statement, which he made at a meeting of Israeli ambassadors, as unfortunate, for he “chose to present the ambassadors with a political view that encouraged condemnations of Israel in the international arena.”
Netanyahu responded far less dramatically, saying that “there is a range of opinions” and noting that he met with Peres from time to time to discuss the issue.
Center-left politicians came to Peres’s defense, voicing their support of a two-state solution and negotiated peace with the Palestinians.
“Shimon Peres, the president of Israel, acted responsibly and told the public the truth about Israel’s situation and status,” Hatnua party leader Tzipi Livni said. “That is how anyone who regards Israel as important should act.” She called on Netanyahu to curb the Likud’s criticism of the president’s statements.
Yesh Atid party chairman Yair Lapid denounced “the government’s ignorance of the deteriorating political situation in Israel,” saying its current policy “will only pass on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to our children.”
“There is no solution other than two states for two nations,” he asserted.
Aaron Kalman contributed to this report.