Israel: Arab protests 'opportunity for peace'

AFP , Tuesday 22 Feb 2011

Israeli President Shimon Peres expresses happiness at the democratic revolution in the Arab world

Peres
Israeli President Shimon Peres 3rd left bottom, talks with the Speaker of the House Jose Bono, 3rd right bottom, during a group picture with deputies at the Spanish Parliament in Madrid on Tuesday, (AP).

Israeli President Shimon Peres said on Tuesday the anti-government protests sweeping the Arab world that have toppled the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt are an "opportunity for peace" in the Middle East.

"We believe that the biggest guarantee of peace is having democracy in our neighbours. We are happy to witness this democratic revolution which is taking place in the Arab world," he said here in an address to the Spanish parliament.

"Now is precisely the time to resume the talks between us and the Palestinians. I say to our Palestinian neighbours: 'Let's return immediately to the negotiating table'. This storm is also an opportunity for peace."

World powers have been seeking a way to bring Israel and the Palestinians back to the negotiating table after direct peace talks broke down last September in a dispute over Jewish settlements and occupied Jerusalem.

Peres, who began a four-day official visit to Spain on Monday, also credited the Internet and social media for fueling the unprecedented uprisings sweeping the Middle East.

"Internet, Twitter, Facebook have opened eyes in a big way and I guess that they will not allow those eyes of the people to close again or cover the ears of the world," he said, in the address delivered in Hebrew.

"The youth of the Middle East can now compare their situation with that of youth in other places. The youth of the region were amazed with the lack of freedom, the lack of jobs and lack of vision.

"It is difficult to be a dictator when we live in a transparent world," Peres added.

Some Israeli officials have expressed concern over the future of the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty, a pillar of Israel's security strategy, following the resignation of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak after 18 days of relentless protest against his rule.

No major group in Egypt is calling for the outright abrogation of the treaty although the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group with deep roots in Egypt's conservative Muslim society, wants it put to a referendum.

The group has historic and ideological ties with Hamas which governs Gaza and it has said it would campaign against the treaty if a referendum were held.

Egypt was the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel, followed by Jordan in 1994. An interim accord was reached with Palestinians in 1993.

"We aspire to a lasting peace with all our neighbours, including Syria and Lebanon. I turn to Syria and ask that they do not become hostages to Iran. Iran is not seeking peace. Iran only brings terrorism and hate," Peres said.

The Israeli president also accused Iran of "creating visible and hidden terrorist cells in other nations, in the Middle East and even in Latin America." He gave no further details.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces that succeeded Mubarak has set a six-month timetable for holding national elections and the government that emerges is widely expected to be more vocal in defending Palestinian rights.

Mubarak enforced strict limits on the movement of people and goods across Egypt's border with Gaza, in line with Israel's policy of isolating the territory, and was hostile to Hamas, which Egyptian state media depicted as troublemakers working for Iranian interests.

Egypt's uprising followed one in Tunisia which overthrew President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January. Protests have also erupted in Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Jordan, Yemen and Bahrain.

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