Analysis: Peres unveils Netanyahu’s moderate message

By David Horovitz May 5, 2009

At AIPAC, president assures crowd PM will try to make peace, stops short of endorsing two-state solution

WASHINGTON – Two weeks before Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu meets here with US President Barack Obama, President Shimon Peres on Monday set out the broad parameters of the message from Jerusalem – and it was strikingly conciliatory.

‘Israel stands with her arms outstretched, and her hands held open to peace with all nations, with all Arab states, with all Arab people,’ he said near the beginning of his remarks, setting the tone for what would follow.

Peres was speaking before delegates at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual Policy Conference, in an address whose every comma, it can be safely assumed, was coordinated with the Prime Minister’s Office.

He prefaced the specifics with an enthusiastic tribute to Obama, declaring, ‘A tsunami of hope is rolling across the globe, its center is right here in AmericaÉ May I say to President Obama: You are young enough to offer hope to the world and great enough to bring it to life.’

And then, in his familiar deliberate and earnest tones, frequently punctuated by warm applause from these thousands of key American pro-Israel activists, he indicated how the new Israeli government intends to realize that hope in our region.

Most notably, the octogenarian Nobel Peace laureate endorsed the peacemaking bona fides of the man who, 13 years ago, narrowly defeated him as he sought to preserve the assassinated Yitzhak Rabin’s legacy in the prime ministerial elections of 1996.

‘Binyamin Netanyahu was at one time my political opponent,’ he acknowledged quietly. ‘Today, he is my prime minister. He knows history. He wants to make history. And in our tradition, making history is making peace. I am sure that peace is his real and profound priority.’

To that end, Peres then elaborated broadly, Israel would ‘negotiate with any partner ready to negotiate the peace that has eluded us since 1947.’

More tangibly, he then produced the clearest backing this government and leadership has sanctioned for talks on the basis of the 2002 Arab League peace initiative. Israel was not accepting every word but, he made clear, the plan could certainly serve as the basis for a negotiation.

Former prime minister Ehud Olmert, it may be recalled, was ready to journey to Saudi Arabia to discuss this initiative and try to take it forward. However, Peres was not speaking as Olmert’s head of state, but as Netanyahu’s.

‘The Saudis gave birth to a peace initiative,’ he said, one that marked ‘a serious U-turn’ from previous Arab rejectionism. ‘Israel wasn’t a partner to the wording of this initiative. Therefore it doesn’t have to agree to every word,’ he said carefully.

‘Nevertheless, Israel respects the profound change. Israel hopes it will be translated into action, the sooner the better.’

Indeed, Peres made clear in his speech, ‘Israel is prepared today to bring peace closer. Today. We want to move ahead as swiftly as is possible.’

In the distributed text of the address, the word ‘today’ was printed in capitals for added emphasis.

The president stopped short – doubtless as agreed with the Prime Minister’s Office – of giving the specific endorsement Netanyahu has hitherto withheld for the vision of a two-state solution.

But he underlined that Israel has no desire to govern the Palestinians, and it was no accident that he chose to mention that ‘Israel, under David Ben-Gurion, accepted the United Nations resolution to partition the land between a Jewish state and an Arab state.’

Asked at a short briefing with Israeli reporters after the speech about the vexed ‘two state’ issue, he hesitated and then said in tones of reassurance, ‘We’ll deal with it.’

And just in case his message from the podium had not been clear enough, he said again: ‘This is a government that will try to make peace.’

© The Jerusalem Post