Israel's Peres Offers Qualified Support For Palestinian State At U.N.

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:10 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres made history on Thursday when he became the first high-ranking official to support a Palestinian state in such an explicit way in a speech before the United Nations General Assembly.

However, Peres was forced to insert a qualifying remark in his declaration stating that this was not official Israeli policy.

Morning papers here had said Peres would tell the assembly that there was widespread support in Israel for the establishment of a Palestinian state, but according to Israel television, he was gently reminded before the speech that this was not yet official policy.

"Yesterday, you would hardly find ... support for a Palestinian state," Peres told the world body in his address. "And although this is not yet a formal policy of the government of Israel, there is support for a Palestinian independence, support for a Palestinian state."

Analysts here said it was to Sharon's advantage for Peres to make a speech before the U.N. at this time.

"We do not want to dominate the Palestinians, we want them to breathe freedom, to create a new economy, to maintain their traditions, to enjoy the highest level of education, and provide real security to all parties," Peres said.

Peres, who shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat and the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, encouraged the PA to clamp down on the armed terror groups under his jurisdiction.

Although groups like the Hamas and Islamic Jihad focus on attacking Israel, they are at times presenting a growing challenge to Arafat's authority.

"If you have one political authority and several armed partners, you can have neither democracy nor security," Peres said.

"The Palestinian Authority, which is a state in the making, must establish one authority over all arms, all armies and all use of arms ... Not for the sake of Israel, but for the sake of peace and their own destiny, so that bullets will not negate ballots," he said.

Nevertheless, Peres said Israel would continue to defend itself against the threat of terror.

"The word terror is not an abstract dilemma for us," he said. "It refers to reality of over 30 to 40 attacks every day - shooting, bombing, ambushing, killing."

Peres also condemned suicide bombers whom he said "have no respect for life, their own or others." He offered a vague justification for Israel's policy of targeted assassinations that has drawn widespread condemnation, saying that, "the only place that [suicide bombers] can be intercepted is the point from which they depart."

Ironically, Peres delivered his speech as Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip were marking the 13th anniversary of PLO Chairman Arafat's declaration in exile of Palestinian independence.

At a speech on Thursday, commemorating the declaration, made in Algeria in 1988 - approximately a year after the beginning of the first intifadah (uprising) - Arafat repeated what he called his strategic choice for peace.

"We reiterate our readiness for a just peace on the basis of a full withdrawal from the Palestinian and Arab territories to the June 4, 1967 borders," he said in the speech that was broadcast live on radio and television.

"We also reiterate our commitment to peace ... between the two states, Palestine and Israel," he said.

Arafat's newly appointed PLO commissioner for Jerusalem Affairs, Sari Nusseibeh said earlier this week that time was running out for the two state solution.

If Israel and the Palestinians did not act now to achieve an agreement, he said, Palestinians might abandon the idea and make even greater demands.

Israel captured the disputed Gaza Strip and West Bank, including eastern Jerusalem from Egypt and Jordan respectively as a result of the 1967 Six-Day war.

Some 400,000 Israelis now live in Jewish communities in those areas, including Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem, which they consider to be their eternal Biblical inheritance in Judea, Samaria and Gaza.

Approximately three million Palestinians live in those areas, excluding Jerusalem.