Middle East peace talks could be completed within a year, Israel tells UN debate

Shimon Peres, President of Israel

24 September 2008 – The current track of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations can still be completed within the next year, leading to two States living side by side in peace, security and mutual respect, Israeli President Shimon Peres told world leaders gathered at the General Assembly today.

Speaking at the Assembly’s annual high-level debate in New York, Mr. Peres said the so-called Annapolis process – named after the United States city where the negotiations began late last year – will not be successfully wrapped up by its initial planned deadline.

“We tried to conclude the negotiations this year, [but] it will take longer,” he said. “But I believe it can be accomplished within the next year. I know that our Prime Minister is more than ready to conclude an agreement. Knowing [Palestinian] President [Mahmoud] Abbas, he will not miss this opportunity.”

Mr. Peres said progress can be made despite the imminent change in the Israeli leadership, with Ehud Olmert stepping down as Prime Minister.

“Gaps have been narrowed through negotiations – particularly the territorial ones. But peace is not just a matter of territorial compromise.”

The President said “rogue politics” still have the potential to disrupt the process, citing the actions of Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip since Israel’s withdrawal of forces.

“These militants carry no positive alternative… They added kidnapping to bombings, bringing strife to innocent families,” he said, calling for the immediate release of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who was captured in 2006.

The General Assembly should place the release of Mr. Shalit at the top of its agenda, he stressed. “Holding a hostage in Gaza determines its isolation and further deterioration.”

For its part, Israel wants a wider peace in the region, the President said, including with neighbours Lebanon and Syria, and he proposed face-to-face talks with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

He invited Arab leaders “to come and discuss peace in Jerusalem, which is holy to all of us.” In addition, he said that Israel would “gladly accept an Arab invitation at a designated venue where a meaningful dialogue may take place.”

But he warned that Iran continues to threaten hopes for peace “its quest for religious hegemony and regional dominance,” its support for Hamas and its backing of Hizbollah in Lebanon.

Turning to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s address to the General Assembly yesterday, Mr. Peres said he had “renewed the darkest anti-Semitic label – the protocols of the elders of Zion. An attempt to bring to life one of the ugliest plots of history.”

“Their despicable denial of the Holocaust is a mockery of indisputable evidence, a cynical offence to survivors of the horror [and] contradictory to the resolutions adopted by this Assembly.”


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