Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas is still a "serious partner" for peace despite his successful bid for UN non-state membership, Israeli President Shimon Peres told AFP in an exclusive interview on Thursday.
"I tried to influence him not to do it right now. I told him: look it's not the proper time to do it," Mr. Peres said. "But I still believe he's a serious partner and a serious man and I have respect for him."
Mr. Abbas, he said, had shown "courage" by seeking the status upgrade at the United Nations in the face of strong opposition from Israel and the United States, which say a Palestinian state can emerge only out of bilateral talks.
"He has shown courage not only by going to the United Nations, which I think -- from a point of view of time -- was the wrong time, but he stood up and said 'I am against terror, I am for peace'," the Israeli president said.
"Wait, why hurry?" he told Mr. Abbas.
"But he felt he was abandoned by us, by America, by Europe by the rest of the world and he wanted to do something."
Mr. Abbas's attempt to secure upgraded UN status was harshly criticized by many in Israel's ruling right-wing coalition, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu himself saying it "violated" existing agreements with the Palestinians and that his government would "act accordingly."
But although he questioned the timing of the UN move, Mr. Peres stopped short of criticizing it per se, saying only that it had created "a crisis of confidence."
"It wasn't necessary. The situation is already loaded with so many problems and disagreements that another is not really an urgent need," he said.
A day after the November 29 vote, Israel announced plans to build 3,000 new settler homes, some of them in an extremely sensitive area of the West Bank near Jerusalem, prompting a major diplomatic backlash against the Jewish state.
In light of Israel's growing isolation on the world stage, Mr. Peres called for a fresh intervention by the Middle East Quartet, which comprises diplomats from the United States, United Nations, Russia and the European Union.
"We have to ask ourselves what to do now. I think the Quartet should return as a negotiating body," he said, indicating the grouping had the "legitimacy" to mediate.
"They started to do a good job but they were interrupted for different reasons... now I think they have to return," he said.
"I think we finished one chapter and we have to return to the other chapter which is negotiations."
But he said negotiations would only be possible after next month's general election.
"I think that until January 22, very little can be done. We have to wait until the elections and then we shall have the next government and then will be the time to renew the negotiations," he said.
On Iran, Mr. Peres stressed that Israel continues to believe that a nuclear-armed Tehran would pose an existential threat to the Jewish state.
"Iran is still the centre of terror in the world. And I think a nuclear bomb in the hands of irrational people is a real danger," he said.
But while Mr. Netanyahu has pushed Washington to take a stronger line on Tehran, and warned that Israel cannot rely on anyone else to ensure its security, Mr. Peres said he trusted U.S. President Barack Obama.
"President Obama is a serious man, I trust what he said... he cannot permit that Tehran will have a bomb, neither can the Europeans... Even (Russian President Vladimir) Putin doesn't want them to have a bomb."
Israel raised speculation this year that it could take unilateral military action against Iran's nuclear programme, which much of the world believes masks a weapons drive – a charge Tehran denies.
Mr. Peres said Israel hoped to resolve the issue without violence.
"If this danger can be overcome by non-military ways, why not? Who wants blood?" he said.
But he added: "The military option must be in the background because if you say no military option, the Iranians will laugh at you."
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