Shimon Peres: Israel can aid US security by making peace with Palestinians

Israeli President Shimon Peres told Jewish leaders Thursday night that Israeli-Palestinian peace is critical to strengthening an anti-Iran coalition in the Middle East.

Sebastian Scheiner/AP
In this Oct. 6 file photo, Israel's President Shimon Peres smiles during a meeting in Jerusalem. Mr. Peres said Thursday night that Israel needed to better understand the security needs of the United States, and that Israeli-Palestinian peace is critical to US security in regards to Iran.

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Israeli President Shimon Peres said Thursday night that Israel needed to better understand the security needs of the United States, and that peace with Palestinians is critical to US security in regards to Iran.

But his remarks come even as the diplomatic process for peace with Palestinians is deadlocked due to Israeli unwillingness to implement another freeze on building Jewish settlements in the West Bank, the area expected to be the core of a Palestinian state should a peace deal ever be reached.

"In our own small way we can be of help, and of help means (to) enable an anti-Iranian coalition in the Middle East. And the contribution will not be by a declaration, but if we will stop the secondary conflict between us and the Palestinians,” Peres said to Jewish leaders in an address also broadcast on Israel Radio, according to Reuters.

"We fought alone, but we cannot exist alone. For our existence we need the friendship of the United States of America. It doesn't sound easy, but this is the truth," Peres said at the Jerusalem conference of the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute.

It is Iran that poses the greatest threat to both the US and to Israel, Peres said, according to Haaretz.

Reuters adds that Peres, who lacks executive power, is often a bellwether for the Israeli left, which opposes many of the policies of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's hawkish government. Israel has not given in to US pressure to extend a settlement freeze in order to resume peace talks with Palestinians.

The pace of settlement construction in the West Bank has surged to four times its previous rate since the 10-month moratorium on settlement growth expired Sept. 26, The Christian Science Monitor reported. The left-leaning Israeli organization Peace Now estimates that 600 new homes are under construction. Palestinians see Israeli unwillingness to reign in settlement growth as the biggest obstacle to peace talks.

Peres also said in his address that he was thankful for the Bush administration’s "attempt to expose them [Arab states] to democracy," but that he questions if that was possible, since it is very difficult to “come to a king” and tell him to go to elections. “Muslims should be able to choose their own path,” he said, according to the Jerusalem Post.

As peace talks stall over the persistent issue of settlements, some Palestinians are considering a diplomatic campaign to ask the United Nations Security Council for recognition of a Palestinian state, as the Monitor reported. But that will be a challenging move, since the US has veto power on the council.

An Israeli government source told the Jerusalem Post late Thursday that Israel will respond if the Palestinian Authority seeks statehood from the UN. “Israel is against unilateral steps. Israel believes that all problems should be solved around the negotiating table, but if the Palestinians choose unilateral steps, they can expect Israel to respond in kind.” The Post speculated that this could mean evacuating West Bank settlements and deploying soldiers there, though it noted that a settler source called that nonsense.

On the Bitter Lemons website, a platform for opinion writing among Israelis and Palestinians, Ghassan Khatib calls settlements the “make or break” issue of the peace process and says this Israeli government is “incompatible” with the process of peace.

Israel was a good listener when direct negotiations started in Washington, but it never engaged in presenting its views or making proposals. ... To truly engage in negotiations would either expose the position of the Israeli government as being too distant from the requirements of the international community, or endanger the coalition itself. This Israeli government cannot agree to any of the fundamental steps required to move the peace process forward. It is not mature enough to end the occupation in return for peace – the very heart of what this peace process is about.

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