SOUTHERN SHUNEH, Jordan — Israeli President Shimon Peres warned Israeli and Palestinian leaders Sunday not to waste any more time and begin peace negotiations now based on the premise of “two states for two peoples.”
“It is urgent,” Peres said. “We shouldn’t lose the opportunity because it will be replaced by a great disappointment.”
Peres, who fills a largely ceremonial role in the Israel government, arrived Sunday at a posh resort on the Dead Sea in Jordan for a meeting of the World Economic Forum, where Israeli and Palestinian leaders are expected to share the same stage, along with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who has been shuttling around the Middle East trying to revive stalled peace negotiations.
Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Peres were scheduled to meet privately Sunday, and according to Israeli officials, Peres also may sit down with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Asked to respond to the Peres call to start peace talks again, the lead Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, said he did “not see any sign of optimism.”
Erekat blamed the Israelis and said the Palestinians wanted to hear Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu commit to a two-state solution.
“We are not the obstacle,” Erekat said.
It is time for the Israelis, Erekat said, “to make peace and not talk about peace.”
Netanyahu has said that he supports two states for two peoples — the State of Israel alongside a newly created State of Palestine — and has pledged to return to the negotiating table “without preconditions.”
Palestinian leaders, however, say that Netanyahu continues to allow Jewish settlements to be built in the West Bank, undermining the possibility of a viable Palestinian state.
They also want Netanyahu to begin negotiations based the pre-1967 borders between Israel and the West Bank.
“I am aware of the missing links residing between those two ends,” Peres said. “From my experience I believe it is possible to overcome; it doesn’t require too much time. I think it’s the real interest of all parties concerned.”
At the forum, a group of Israeli and Palestinian moguls announced a new business-led initiative called “Breaking the Impasse,” whose aim was to pressure their respective governments to pursue peace negotiations.
The group is led by a pair of billionaires, Israeli high-tech impresario Yossi Vardi and the Palestinian “Duke of Nablus,” Munib al-Masri, who made his first fortune in oil and gas, and now runs a holding company that owns hotels, mobile carriers and banks. Their goal is to leverage the collective clout of 300 business leaders who signed onto the initiative and persuade wary politicians to reach out for a two-state solution.
“We hear often of the extremists, but the majority is silent,” Vardi said. “We believe that most of the people want to get an end to this conflict.”
“We are worried by the status quo. We want to change the status quo,” said Al-Marsi, who added that the business leaders don’t have specific proposals, but want the two sides to enter into “real negotiations.”
Earlier Sunday, Kerry told students in Ethiopia that economic development is a crucial tool to combat extremism and disillusionment among the young. He said he would make that point as part of his plan to draw new foreign investment to the West Bank.
“Tonight I will be in Amman and talk about the economic development of the West Bank, the Sahel, Maghreb, all of these regions,” Kerry told students at the University of Addis Ababa. “I think when you look at extremism, radical, violent extremism, it is filling a void that is being left by the absence of governance.”
“The Middle East is the granddaddy or grandma of all conflicts,” Kerry said in Ethiopia. “Everybody knows what the issues are. The question is: Can you get over that divide? The Palestinians deserve a state; Israel deserves to be secure and know that people won’t be firing rockets at it, sending women and children into bunkers.”
Anne Gearan in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, contributed to this report.