Peres backs Palestinian state as in peace plan


ISRAELI PRESIDENT Shimon Peres yesterday called for the establishment of a Palestinian state with temporary borders, as outlined in the second phase of the “road map” peace plan endorsed by previous Israeli and Palestinian governments.

Speaking at the start of talks with visiting EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, the president explained that Israeli and Palestinian negotiators should continue talks after such a move in an effort to finalise the permanent borders between the two states.

The role of Israel’s president is largely ceremonial, but Mr Peres, a Nobel peace laureate and respected diplomat on the world stage, is not afraid to speak his mind on contentious issues.

His comments were criticised by the right-wing National Union Party, which urged him to refrain from speaking on such issues. “We cannot accept a situation where the president oversteps his post and interferes in diplomatic affairs,” it said in a statement.

The president spoke ahead of a major policy speech to be delivered by prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday, during which he is expected to speak on Palestinian statehood and West Bank settlement construction.

Mr Solana said the EU backs Washington’s new Middle East diplomatic drive, and called on Mr Netanyahu to endorse the idea of a Palestinian state and a settlement freeze. “That’s what we expect to hear and I am sure something of that nature will happen,” the EU diplomat said.

According to Israeli media, Mr Netanyahu is likely to endorse a two-state solution, but insist that a future Palestinian state have restricted powers, and no army.

Israeli commentators believe he will continue to insist on Israel’s right to build within the boundaries of existing West Bank settlements, to accommodate “natural population growth”. Such a compromise could fail to satisfy both US president Barack Obama, who has called for a total cessation of building in Jewish settlements, and members of Mr Netanyahu’s own right-wing Likud party.

Likud politicians have been urging the prime minister to firmly oppose a Palestinian state.

Minister Benny Begin warned that if the only solution was a two-state solution, there would not be a solution. “The Palestinians are not interested in a two-state solution,” he said. “They want a two-stage solution, after which there will only be one state, a PLO-Hamas Palestine.”