JERUSALEM (JTA) – Israeli President Shimon Peres at a reception for Christian leaders called peace a top priority.
"Peace is not just a desire, it is not just a call from heaven, I think it can be attained and achieved," Peres said Monday in a greeting to his guests in Jerusalem. "We have to act determinedly, honestly and courageously to achieve it. That was from the very beginning, from the Old Testament to the New Testament and throughout the scriptures."
Peres at the reception honoring the new year stressed that he opposes negotiations with Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, while it rejects the three principles of the Quartet on Middle East peace: renouncing terrorism, recognizing Israel and accepting previous peace agreements.
"There is a Palestinian Authority with which we signed an agreement and there is a separate organization in Gaza, Hamas. They must decide whether they want peace or war, what sort of relationship they want; shooting or building," he said. "We have no interest in seeing anybody in Gaza suffering, we would be happy to see Gaza be successful."
His message came a day after he told more than 150 members of the diplomatic corps in Israel that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is a man of peace and that Israel can reach a peace agreement with him, angering the ruling government.
Peres on Monday also praised the relations between the Christian community and the Jewish community, saying they are "at their best in the past 2,000 years."
"I have the greatest respect for the pope and agree with him that peace is not just an earthly demand but a heavenly order, if there is one thing that clearly unites all of us it is the prayer for peace, the hope for peace," the Israeli president said. "You can have your own prayers, your own way of worshiping, but peace remains the uniting factor. All of us would like to see an end to bloodshed, an end to suffering."