Israeli President Shimon Peres extended a customary reciprocal invitation at a state dinner in Oslo Monday night, for his host King Harald to visit Israel. The invitation is likely to stir more protests like those seen on the streets of Oslo on Monday,while Norway’s long-time ex-foreign minister, Jonas Gahr Støre, accused Israel’s government of ruining any chances for peace between Israelis and the Palestinians.
The 90-year-old Peres, a veteran Israeli politician and Nobel Peace Prize winner, gave the impression during his state visit to Norway that he remains most concerned with securing peace in the Middle East. In remarks at a synagogue in Oslo, in meetings throughout the day and at a state dinner in his honour at the Royal Palace, Peres repeatedly claimed there is no “better alternative than a peace based on the two-state solution.”
He thanked Norwegian diplomats and government leaders for building the “dramatic first bridge between us and Palestinians” in 1993 that led to the Oslo Accord. “There had been many attempts to break the ice between us and the Palestinians,” Peres said. “All failed.” In the cold of Norway, Peres noted, the “ice melted” for the first time, leading to an accord that “laid down the foundations for all future agreements between the two of us.”
Peres downplayed the ongoing “obstacles” ever since, that have blocked further progress and frustrated all efforts to broker peace. In remarks directed at King Harald, he chose to claim instead that “the real threat in the Middle East today is Iran.” While Peres claimed that Israel “was not born to rule over other people,” ignoring the ongoing outcry over Israel’s construction of settlements in Palestinian territories that leave it accused of being an occupying force, he said that Iran “harbors hegemonic ambitions over the region.”
As King Harald, Prime Minister Erna Solberg, Crown Prince Haakon and around 200 other palace guests listen to Peres’ remarks, Norway’s former longtime foreign minister Jonas Gahr Støre was in Ramallah on the West Bank, where he claimed Israeli settlements were “destroying the prospect of any future peace.” Støre, who spent seven years trying to reignite serious peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians, has clearly taken off the diplomatic gloves, issuing a salvo against Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.
“It’s destroying the future for two states,” Støre, now in opposition in Parliament and widely viewed as the next leader of Norway’s Labour Party, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “Earlier we saw in Jerusalem how the two-state solution was dashed into bits by new settlements, now we also see it around Ramallah.”
He’s not alone in his opposition. Young Israeli Paz Cohen of Jerusalem and Palestinian Alaa Al-Shaham of Ramallah, who have worked together to advance understanding and cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian youth, wrote in Oslo newspaper Aftenposten on Tuesday that the political leaders of both Israel and Palestine “pull us in the wrong direction.” They thanked Norway for its “lengthy contributions (to the peace process) and support,” but questioned how it was directed at politicians who aren’t ushering in peace. In the Palestinian areas “there’s a lot of corruption,” they wrote, while Israel’s “oppression and de facto occupation of the West Bank” prevented peace. They’ve been building a network among young Israelis and Palestinians alike “who want liberal, democratic development in the area, with respect for human rights and cooperation over borders.”
Meanwhile reports from Israel noted how Israeli extremists are vandalizing both churches and mosques. Peres has denounced the vandalism and threats against Christians and Muslims that’s spread from the West Bank to other areas of Israel and claimed the authorities are “working hard” to arrest and punish the ultra-nationalists involved.
King Harald and Norway’s foreign ministry now face strong objections over Peres’ invitation to the monarch, from fellow Norwegians who argue that Norway’s head of state must not visit a country that has violated as many UN resolutions as Israel has. Nearly three dozen organizations protested Peres’ state visit itself in front of the Norwegian Parliament Monday evening, claiming Israel is guilty of human rights abuses and has become an occupying power.
Newspaper commentator Harald Stanghelle wrote in Aftenposten on Tuesday that “the tone” between Norway and Israel has become more conciliatory, but there’s disappointment on both sides. And Peres’ repeated ideas and calls for peace aren’t implemented or answered by his own government. “For Peres, it must be hard to see that while his personal popularity has never been higher in his homeland, he’s quite politically isolated with his willingness to negotiate peace,” Stanghelle wrote. “Also because Peres now sees that Israel can lock itself into a role as occupier and therefore risk standing even more alone.”
Peres met with Prime Minister Erna Solberg Tuesday morning, and was due to speak at the Nobel Institute and be guest of honor at a luncheon hosted by the Norwegian government. A boat ride on the fjord with Oslo Mayor Fabian Stang was scheduled for late in the afternoon, when Peres’ historic state visit to Oslo would officially end.