Former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres stressed the need for a Palestinian state, a national unity government in Israel, and reducing the power of religious parties, during a wide-ranging speech last week at Manhattan’s Plaza Hotel.
Peres, kicking off the fourth annual Tel Aviv University North American Conference, said that creation of a Palestinian state was the best option open to Israel; better than dominating Palestinians or absorbing them into the Jewish state. “In order to keep Israel Jewish, we need a Palestinian state,” he said in the Oct. 8 speech.
Peres also took political shots at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who narrowly defeated him in 1996, saying Netanyahu had become a “prisoner of his coalition,” referring to Israel’s religious parties.Netanyahu, he said, was “negotiating more with the different factions in his own government … than he has negotiated with the Palestinians.”
Peres said Netanyahu has invested too much effort in keeping the religious parties in his corner and on the dispute over the West Bank.
He said the religious parties were becoming more extreme, threatening democracy in Israel. “The religious [parties] have developed a political appetite. It is extremely difficult to satisfy them,” he said.
Peres credited Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat with taking a terrorist organization and “converting it into a political movement.”
Regarding the Jerusalem mayoral race, Peres has been sharply criticized in recent days by his own Labor Party for undermining party head Ehud Barak and supporting hawkish Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert of the Likud Party.
Peres refused to answer questions about the criticism.