A few hours before the festive opening of the Annapolis Conference, Israeli President Shimon Peres is already praising its accomplishments. "The conference certainly has potential, and in the meantime, until we see all its results, it was certainly a good start from which to progress to something of importance," the president said Tuesday in the Negev town of Yeruham.
Peres pointed to the participation of Arab countries in the conference as an especially positive sign, "and it is not important who is shaking hands and who is not." He added his own interpretation of events: "Many Arab countries and others came to Annapolis as a result of Iranian's extremist, threatening policy. Many people (thus) began to understand that it is Iran, not Israel that represents a (substantial) threat."
Usually, Peres said out of personal experience, such conferences are met with high expectations. "A factory is not built in a day – and thus peace is also not achieved in one day. Of course there are serious birth pangs, of course there are difficulties, but today, the Middle East looks different than it did 30 years ago as far as opportunities and risks are concerned."
The president also regarded Washington's participation in the peace process positively, saying, "I think that now all sides are interested in not wasting time or potential opportunities. Each one aspires to reach peace. I think this is common to all sides."
Sweeping contacts 'under the rug'
On the Syrian issue, Peres said, "We are conducting contacts, some of them 'under the rug.'" Nevertheless, Peres added, Damascus faces two 'imbroglios' it must decide how to resolve: "One is Lebanon – the Arab states do not want to see it become an Iranian satellite. Second, Syria is still allowing (Hamas leader) Khaled Mashaal to remain on its territory and Mashaal is a terrorist. If Syria wants to negotiate with us, this is not a good way to start. It is, however, good that they came (to Annapolis) and the fact that the Saudis arrived is also important."
Peres again promised to get involved in the secondary school strike and offered to mediate if the two sides so desire. Finally, in a personal vein, when asked if he feels a bit emotional observing the conference from afar, Peres responded, "What's so bad about Yeruham?"