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Interview: Palestinian UN bid "a mistake,"calls for direct talks: Shimon Peres

08-18-2011 09:07 BJT

by Dave Bender, Gur Salomon, Geng Xuepeng

JERUSALEM, Aug. 17 (Xinhua) -- With the clock ticking down to possible recognition of an independent Palestinian state by the United Nations General Assembly in September, Israeli President Shimon Peres asserted Wednesday that the best policy for both sides would be a return to direct talks.

"I think it's a mistake on the Arab side," Peres said in an interview with Xinhua, referring to the stated goal of Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to unilaterally seek recognition at the world body.

Saying that "peace should be achieved by agreement," Peres suggested, "the United Nations can issue a declaration, but a declaration is not a policy."

"I am for a Palestinian state, we are for a Palestinian state. That is the best solution for us and for them," he said.

The Palestinians, however, say Israel is to blame for their decision to seek recognition at the UN, citing the Jewish state's alleged refusal to launch "real" negotiations.

But Peres countered that "instead of running in September to the UN, let's wait a little bit more, negotiate a little bit more, and reach a full agreement," which he said is doable.

"I am convinced that we can achieve an agreement in a not-very- long period of time," the president added.

While he would neither confirm nor deny reports of several secret meetings with Abbas in recent months, meant to revive peace talks and entice the Palestinians to backtrack on their UN bid, Peres later admitted, "I talk all the time with the Palestinians."

But "if you really want to have talks about peace, keep it secret," according to Peres, who cautioned that publicity "doesn't serve the talks," but rather engenders "opposition."

An unnamed Palestinian official claimed that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had vetoed the latest meeting between Peres and Abbas, which was scheduled to be held in Amman, Jordan, two weeks ago, local media reported earlier this week.

When directly asked if he was satisfied with the government's handling of the peace process, Peres did not publicly criticize Netanyahu's right-wing coalition.

"In this country, the government is elected, and I respect the elections," Peres responded, adding "I am satisfied with the government; I am satisfied with the (ministerial) positions."

Peres, while limited by the strictures of the office which place him in an exclusively ceremonial role, averred that he has made it clear to Netanyahu and "other prime ministers, not to be under the illusion that leaders, a prime minister or a president, can change the realities."

The president, who has been part and parcel of Israeli politics and history since its inception in 1948 and has held every top government position, confidently asserted that a leader, regardless of his ideology, has to accommodate a fast-changing reality.

"There is no single man that can do it," Peres said. "It is a combination between the personal leadership and the objective reality," he cautioned, adding that he did not know "any prime minister who was not forced to change his policies," when confronted with facts-on-the-ground.

"I respect both the government and the realities, and the conclusion is that we don't have a choice -- or we don't have a better choice -- than to make peace (with the Palestinians)," he said.


Since the complete breakdown in direct negotiations in September of last year, many analysts, both in Israel and among the Palestinians, are asking if the entire Oslo Accord framework is a dead letter.

Peres was one of the chief architects of the 1993 agreement and received a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts, along with late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, and then-Palestinian Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat.

"Oslo was the foundation," Peres said, "without Oslo we wouldn' t have a Palestinian Authority at all ... we (Israel and the Palestinians) agreed on the basis of a future solution, which is more or less the 1967 lines. Without it, we couldn't start to negotiate ... the two parties finally agreed that there should be a two-state solution."

"I regret that it took 20 years, but I'm proud that (Oslo) is still on the move ... the alternative would have been 20 years of wars. We didn't achieve everything, but we achieved a lot," the president said frankly.

The sincere intentions behind the Oslo accords, which were initially largely received with enthusiasm by much of the Israeli public, did not, however, materialize into a signed peace agreement. Israeli prime ministers and governments have come and gone over the past 18 years, with each leading its own failed attempt to end a decades-long conflict.

What has remained unchanged are the gaps between Israel and the Palestinians on the core issues that have continued to fuel the dispute: the future Palestinian state's borders, the refugees' right of return, mutual security arrangements, Israel's demand that the Palestinians officially recognize the country as the Jewish national homeland, and the final status of Jerusalem.

"I think (the gaps) were narrowed. Today, they are not as deep and wide as they used to be," according to Peres. "The remaining issues can be solved with a little sophistication. (The conflict) can be solved and we have to solve it," he asserted.

Peres noted the centuries of conflict over the status of Jerusalem, the Old City and so-called "Holy Basin," a small patch of land that contains sites sacred to the three monotheistic religions.

"...for two square kilometers there have been 20 wars in the Middle East," Peres pointed out, adding that "within these two kilometers you have 100 holy sites for Christians and Muslims and Jews..."


Briefly touching on Israel's potential response to the uprisings that have heralded a new, uncertain reality in much of the Arab world, Peres said the future belongs to the "younger generation," stressing that the wave of change extended beyond Israel and the Middle East.

Peres, who was a protege of Israel's first prime minister David Ben-Gurion, has amassed respect and admiration in six decades of public life by numerous leaders, both locally and abroad, friend and foe.

Much of his service to his country was shrouded in secrecy, owing to its focus on Israel's defense and security posture. Peres was instrumental in the founding of Israel's nuclear research capabilities, according to foreign reports.

When asked what his possible legacy might be, Peres, who a day earlier celebrated his 88th birthday to much fanfare, responded that a more fitting question might be "how can I serve my country, but not how shall I be remembered -- it's unimportant."

But, besides his lauded peacemaking efforts, Peres was always also known as a canny politician, and he compared no-holds-barred Israeli politics to his present role, in which he regularly met with volunteers who donate their time to a spectrum of social-aid projects.

"When I was prime minister, I hardly ever heard the word 'yes.' Now, as president, I don't hear the word, 'no.' There is such a great deal of volunteerism -- it's a great feeling," he said.

By the end of the interview, Peres allows that, as far as his legacy goes, he doesn't want, "to be a hero of a war or a ' sensation.' I would like to be remembered as a person that saved the life of one child. If I shall be remembered that way, I'll be a happy man."

Editor:Wang Xiaomei |Source: Xinhua

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