The presidency in Israel is a ceremonial position and presidents generally refrain from political statements. But this was the second time in less than two weeks that President Shimon Peres’ criticisms of Netanyahu’s approach to the Palestinians have found an international platform.
“If there is no diplomatic decision, the Palestinians will go back to terror. Knives, mines, suicide attacks,” Peres was quoted as saying in Wednesday’s edition of the New York Times magazine.
“Even if the local inhabitants do not want to resume the violence, they will be under the pressure of the Arab world,” he said, adding that most of the world is likely to support the Palestinians, not Israel.
Late last month, Peres, a Nobel Peace laureate, criticized Netanyahu at a meeting of foreign ambassadors, calling Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas a reliable peace partner and saying Israeli diplomacy must change “from an aggressive approach to a moderate approach of dialogue.”
Netanyahu’s Likud Party released a statement in that case calling Peres out of touch and Abbas a “peace rejecter,” saying that the president’s remarks to a diplomatic audience encouraged international condemnation of Israel.
The prime minister’s office had no comment on Peres’ comments to the New York Times. But Cabinet minister Yisrael Katz, a close ally of the prime minister’s, told Israel Radio that Peres was only reinforcing a perception that Israel is to blame for the deadlock, something the Netanyahu government denies.
Peace talks stalled before Netanyahu took office in 2009 and resumed for only three weeks during his tenure. Abbas says he opposes violence and favors a negotiated peace agreement, but has demanded that Israel freeze the building of all Jewish settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem as a condition for resuming talks. Netanyahu slowed some settlement construction earlier in his term, but the move failed to jumpstart serious negotiations, and he has since rejected calls to halt all construction.
Netanyahu is expected to form Israel’s next government after this month’s parliamentary elections, and polls show hard-liners maintaining a comfortable lead over centrist and dovish parties.