Addressing AIPAC Policy Conference today, May 4, 2009, in Washington, D.C., President Shimon Peres argues that Netanyahu "knows history and wants to make history. In our tradition, making history is making peace, and I am sure that peace is his priority." We'll see. Peres is seen by his admirers as a man of vision, but he has an established record for offering soft-hued assessments of hardline Israeli policies.
By my reading, it was notable that Peres reiterated (in contrast to Foreign Minister Lieberman) Israel's committment to honor agreements signed by previous governments, that he referred positively to the Arab League initiative, and that he referred to the 1947 Partition resolution and the vision of two states living side by side. What is not clear is that Peres' words accurately anticipate the stance that Netanyahu and his government will reveal in the coming days and weeks, except perhaps Peres' emphasis on the threat posed by Iran's "fanatic leaders".
In contrast, Lieberman's words are roughly hewn, but they are reminiscent of the first Netanyahu government with their emphasis on "concrete results," which are understood to mean that the Palestinians will be expected to meet a variety of pre-conditions before Israel adopts politically difficult concessions. In practice, this is a way to placate the U.S. while the colonization of the West Bank continues at a brisk pace. [The full extent of the settlement project is revealed in this previously secret Israeli government database, which was leaked in January 2009. The database details the extent of "illegal" or unauthorized settlements.]
That approach worked in the late 1990s when Bill Clinton and company did not hide their annoyance at Netanyahu's impolitic obdurance but did little to obstruct his active efforts to undermine the Oslo process. Recall the crowning glory of that period, namely the 1997 Hebron protocol, which was supposed to mark the beginning of final status negotiations that were to be completed by May 1999.