Peres’ call for peace talks divides Israel

Peres’ call for peace talks divides Israel

Peres’ call for peace talks divides Israel

Palestinian refugees and protesters shout slogans against Israel during a rally. REUTERS photo

Israeli political leaders are divided on the peace process with Palestine after President Shimon Peres urged both sides to overcome differences and resume peace negotiations, saying the sides could not afford “to lose this opportunity.”

Peres issued his call May 26, ahead of a gathering of Middle East leaders on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum on the shores of the Dead Sea in Jordan. “We shouldn’t lose the opportunity because it will be replaced by a great disappointment,” Peres said. “For my experience, I believe it’s possible to overcome it. It doesn’t require too much time.” Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas agreed. “Enough is enough. A lot of our young people have started to lose confidence in the two-state solution,” he said.

Government ‘makes policy’

Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz criticized the president. “I didn’t know that Peres became the government spokesman. I think the government has its own spokespeople.” “The position of the president is respected, but the government makes policy decisions, and I think that every declaration of this sort, certainly on the eve of negotiations, does not help Israel’s stance,” Israeli daily Jerusalem Post quoted Steinitz as saying. Tourism Minister Uzi Landou also joined the debate. “I hear people talking about a Palestinian state that must be established,” he said. “Whoever wants something serious [to come of peace talks] should stay away from the idea of a Palestinian state.” Last week, Israel’s top negotiator and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said the government was divided on the issue of peace with the Palestinians.

Israeli Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett said that while he respects Peres, “most of Israel opposes an agreement involving pre-1967 lines and understands that it will lead to Hamas terror reaching the coastal plain and the center of the country.”

Defending the opposite view, Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz said, “Any diplomatic agreement will certainly be based on 1967 lines and land swaps.” Most of the world deems all Israeli settlements in the West Bank as illegal. Israel, which captured the land in the 1967 Middle East War, disputes this and distinguishes between about 120 government-authorized settlements and dozens of outposts built by settlers without official sanction.