Kerry and Peres: peas in a perilous pod
The World Economic Forum just held its annual meeting in Davos. The stated purpose of the WEF is improving the state of the world by engaging business, political, academic, and other leaders of society to shape global, regional, and industry agendas.
Among the Israeli delegation to Davos were President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Among those attending for Iran were President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. No meetings between the two delegations were planned.
Netanyahu spoke about Israel’s emerging role as a world economic powerhouse. Rouhani addressed Iran’s role in the world, stating he wanted to have good relations “with all countries we officially recognize.” Obviously, this would exclude Israel, whose legitimacy Iran has challenged under a succession of leaders.
Reacting to Rouhani’s speech, Peres said, “The most significant remarks were the ones he didn’t make, particularly not expressing support for peace in the Middle East.”
“He could have announced that seeing as he doesn’t want a nuclear bomb that he will stop building long range missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads,” Peres said. “He didn’t announce that Iran will stop being the center of terror in our time.”
Peres declared Israel was ready to make peace with Iran, and historically the two peoples have never been enemies. That Israel was ready to make peace with Iran may have come as a surprise to Netanyahu, who is officially charged with setting foreign policy.
Peres is the last significant person standing in the Israeli peace camp. There is bad blood between him and Netanyahu. He is considered the anti-Netanyahu, a position which has gained Peres international stature.
This was illustrated by the WEF bestowing Peres the Spirit of Davos award for his contribution to peace, economics and technology. Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the WEF, called Peres a “unique statesman.” Symbolically, Netanyahu was not invited to the presentation.
In a lecture delivered at the annual Foreign Ministry’s ambassadors’ conference, Peres said, “Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is a peace partner. I know him for 30 years. No one will change my mind,” adding, “Even if they tell me that I cannot make my opinion known, because I am president.” This addendum was prompted by comments by Netanyahu supporters that Peres was going beyond his non-partisan presidential role when he previously directed barbs at Netanyahu.
Peres delivered one last parting shot at Netanyahu’s negotiating strategy. He called Netanyahu’s insistence on Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state “unnecessary” and a possible impediment to peace talks.
This again raises the issue of a double standard applied only to Israel. Why can there be “Islamic republics” and why must a Palestinian state be judenrein, while Israel cannot be a Jewish state?
Peres’ “peace partner,” Abbas, has declared, “We won’t recognize and accept the Jewishness of Israel.” This point was reiterated in an interview by PA Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki, who said, “The Arab states will never recognize a Jewish state.”
Why make these declarations in course of negotiations? One logical conclusion is that the Palestinians, whether PA, Fatah, or Hamas continue in their stance, “From river to sea, Palestine will be free.”
Gatestone Institute fellow Khalid Abu Toameh raises an excellent point about the legitimacy of Abbas as a peace partner in a column “congratulating” Abbas on entering the tenth year of his four-year term as president of the PA. He points out Abbas, by remaining in power beyond his term, has given Hamas and other Palestinians a good excuse to argue that he is not authorized to sign a peace agreement with Israel. Asks Toameh, “How can [Secretary of State John] Kerry expect Abbas to sign any document declaring the end of the conflict with Israel when many Palestinians are already pointing out that their president does not even have a mandate to act or speak on their behalf?”
Nevertheless, in conversations with diplomatic and political officials in recent weeks, Peres said it was possible to reach an agreement with the Palestinians now, with American assistance.
It seems that Peres’ position is more in line with the position of Kerry than that of the elected government of Israel, making Peres the Obama administration’s man in Jerusalem.
Circumstantial evidence indicates, however, that the administration is pandering to the Palestinians. A recent example is UNESCO’s cancellation, under pressure from Arab countries, of an exhibit, cosponsored with the Wiesenthal Center, detailing the Jewish people’s 3,000-year relationship to the land of Israel. The claim was that the exhibit would harm the peace process. The State Department refused to sponsor the exhibit for the same reason.
Last week, addressing the Knesset, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper vowed Canada would stand with Israel no matter what, “through fire and water.” In the not so distant past, an American administration would have made that statement. Instead, the position of the Obama administration — and possibly Peres — regarding the peace negotiations is Farragut’s famous rallying cry, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.”