Peres: Obama told me he was 'very impressed' with Arab peace plan
However, president denies report claiming Obama said Israel would be 'crazy' to reject the Arab initiative.
LONDON - U.S. President-elect Barack Obama proclaimed himself "very impressed" with the Arab League's peace plan when he discussed it with President Shimon Peres during a brief visit to Israel four months ago, Peres said Tuesday.
Peres, who had just arrived in London for an official visit, made the comment in interviews to be published in the British media. He was responding to questions about whether he thought Obama would advance the Middle East peace process in general and the Arab League's plan in particular.
But he denied a Sunday Times report earlier this week which claimed that Obama had said Israel would be "crazy" to reject the Arab initiative.
On Monday, former American envoy to the Middle East Dennis Ross, who has been advising Obama on the subject, also denied reports that Obama had said while visiting Israel in July that he supported the Arab initiative and would base his own diplomatic policy on it.
The plan, originally proposed by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia in 2002 and later adopted by the Arab League, states that Israel would receive full relations with the entire Arab world in exchange for a full withdrawal from all the territory it captured in 1967, including East Jerusalem, plus a solution to the refugee problem. The Bush Administration has said it views the plan positively, but its own road map peace plan and the understandings reached at last year's Annapolis summit have served as the basis of its diplomatic program.
Peres said the Arab initiative was "not perfect," mainly because it fails to address Jewish rights. Nevertheless, he said, it is worth negotiating, alongside the bilateral talks with the Palestinian Authority.
The plan's big plus, he explained, is that it represents "a sea change" from the famous "three noes" - no peace with Israel, no recognition and no negotiations - of the Khartoum summit in 1967. In addition, he argued, it enables Israel to obtain peace with all the Arab states for the price of an agreement with the Palestinians.
Peres, who said the Arab plan was becoming "serious," added that he did not think the United States would need to pressure Israel to advance the peace process, since Washington and Jerusalem "see eye to eye" on how to solve the conflict with the Palestinians.
Addressing the issue again during a visit to London's old City Hall, where he received an honorary doctorate from University College London, Peres claimed that agreement had already been reached with the Palestinians on most issues, and all that remained was to reach a deal on territorial exchanges comprising 4 to 5 percent of the West Bank.
However, he added, Israel must be given guarantees because "in Gaza we failed. We took down 30 settlements by force, and there is not one Israeli citizen or soldier there anymore. But instead of settlements, they've built launching sites for missiles. And I have to give an answer to Israelis who are asking: 'How can we be sure that it won't happen if we leave more settlements?'"
Discussing negotiations with Syria, Peres noted that both Egypt and Jordan got back all the territory they lost in the Six-Day War by signing peace agreements with Israel, and that "if Syria changes its ways and goes in the direction of Egypt, it knows what it will receive."
On another issue, Peres lashed out at repeated attempts by British university lecturers to impose an academic boycott on Israel, terming it "hypocritical."
"Will the academics defend us? Will they defend our children?" he demanded. "Will they defend Sderot, which is being hit by missiles every day?"
Tuesday night, Peres gave a talk on peace and globalization at Oxford University, where he noted that Zionism arose in response to anti-Semitism and racism, but Obama's election might herald the end of racism. He was periodically interrupted by pro-Palestinian hecklers.
On Wednesday, Peres will address both houses of Parliament, and on Thursday, he will meet with Queen Elizabeth II and Prime Minister Gordon Brown.