Jerusalem, July 26 - Israel’s President Shimon Peres said Tuesday that Israel is closer than ever to peace with the Palestinians. He made the remarks at an event for Arabic press organized in cooperation with The Israel Project’s People-to-People Arabic Media Program.
More than 30 Arabic-language media outlets attended, including prominent outlets from Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi, Qatar, Kuwait, Egypt, Dubai, Jordan and the Palestinian territories.
The Israeli president used the opportunity to wish Muslims in the region a warm Ramadan holiday. He also spoke about Israeli-Palestinian peace, the Arab Spring, Iran and Syria.
Peres said that both the Israeli people and their government support a two-state solution.
“Peace is made even when it is considered impossible. Peace is just a matter of time, but I prefer that we move quickly,” he said. “Today’s youth are driving the push for peace,” said Peres, noting that the Arab Spring resulted from the Arab public’s desire for real, grassroots change.
”I am talking to all parties. I believe that together the leaders of both the Israelis and Palestinians can make political moves to return to the negotiating table. I’m on this podium again calling on the parties to return to negotiations. This would be a breakthrough for all sides,” Peres said.
In September, the Palestinian Authority is expected to bring a plan to unilaterally declare a state before the U.N. General Assembly – a move Israel opposes because it precludes peace talks as a means to achieving lasting peace.
Peres stressed that Israel made bold moves for peace by pursuing peace agreements with Jordan and Egypt at a time when people did not believe it was possible. “Israel and Egypt made major land-swaps in order to reach that peace deal,” Peres said.
A recent poll commissioned by The Israel Project shows that Palestinians in the West Bank are supportive of negotiations with Israel as a path to peace. The poll also shows that they view their well-being – getting jobs, healthcare and investments – as a new priority in the Arab Spring.
Relating to Syria, Peres noted: “People want to rule themselves; they don’t want to be ruled by tyrants.” He lauded the Syrian people as brave and hopeful.
Peres said: “Their courage and resilience deserves respect. “It’s easy to demonstrate, but not when you’re being fired at. I believe that nations that want peace will ultimately prevail. And, it makes it easier to achieve peace between Israel and Syria.”
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces have killed nearly 2,000 Syrians and imprisoned tens of thousands for protesting against his regime. Peres called Assad a “cruel dictator” who has lost his credibility and must go. “Assad has no chance of destroying his people,” added Peres.
Speaking about Iran, Peres said, “Iran does not want peace. “They sow fear and hopelessness through their proxies Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza.”
Ramadan and the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur, Peres said, are both important, similarly reflective holidays – a time when people look within for change and courage.
Said TIP’s Arabic Media Program Director, Shimrit Meir, “This is the first time that such a high-level Israeli official is talking directly to such a broad swath of Arabic-language media. We at The Israel Project are proud to be part of this. As the president said, the quest for democracy and a better future by young Arabs in the region is actually an opportunity for Israelis to finally communicate directly with their neighbors, without boundaries or middlemen, as President Peres did today.” TIP’s people-to-peace program uses social media to do that on a daily basis, Meir said.
TIP’s Arabic Media Program also runs a Facebook group, “Israel Uncensored.” As part of the Arabic team’s peace program, the group has almost 100,000 followers from around the Arab world and Israel. The program, staffed by Jews, Muslims and Druze, is expanding.