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Last push

Vanessa O'Brien, Jerusalem
June 20, 2013

Celebrations have kicked off in Jerusalem to mark Israeli President Shimon Peres' upcoming 90th birthday. Dignitaries have turned up to pay their respects to a man who is still on a mission for peace.

Israeli President Shimon Peres sits with former US President Bill Clinton during Peres' 90th birthday gala in Jerusalem, Tuesday June 18 2013. At left is singer Barbra Streisand and at right is Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu. (AP Photo/ Jim Hollander, pool)
Image: picture alliance / AP Photo

Israeli President Shimon Peres' career path started in the first Arab-Israeli war in 1948, but as he looks to round up his presidential tenure, it's a peace accord he's pushing for.

"The yesterday between us and the Palestinians is full of sadness," the statesman told hundreds of world leaders, dignitaries and famous faces gathered at the International Convention Centre in Jerusalem on Tuesday night to celebrate Peres' 90th birthday and the opening of the Shimon Peres' fifth presidential conference, Facing Tomorrow.

"I believe that the Israel of tomorrow and the Palestine of tomorrow can offer our children a ray of hope. The advancement of peace will complete the march of Israel towards the fulfilment of its founding vision. An exemplary and thriving country. A country living in peace and security in its homeland and among its neighbors," he said.

Peace in his lifetime

The world's oldest current serving head of state also told journalists that he still believed that peace between Israel and its Palestinian neighbours was possible in his lifetime.

His comments come as American Secretary of State John Kerry is tipped to return to the region for his fifth visit in three months next week, as part of the United States' concerted efforts to break the stalemate and bring Israel and the Palestinian Authority back to the negotiating table.

President Barack Obama watches as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas shake hands (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File)
The US is currently on a diplomatic push to get the two sides to agree to a dealImage: picture-alliance/AP

On Tuesday Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reaffirmed Israel's commitment to the two-state solution and said his country was ready to reengage in peace talks without preconditions.

The Palestinian Authority continues to demand full cessation of settlement construction and recognition of the two-state solution on the basis of the pre-1967 lines before resuming the peace process with Israel.

Gilead Sher, senior research fellow at Israel's Institute for National Security Studies, former chief of staff of for the prime minister and former chief negotiator, said the bulk of Israelis still supported the two-state solution and were hopeful that Kerry would be successful. However, they needed to be realistic.

"It's in the very best interests of Israel to reach an agreement for two states for two peoples. However, I think it's necessary to have a contingency plan. This would be Israel unilaterally delineating its own boundaries."

Wasted effort?

However Mordechai Kedar, director of studies for the Middle East and Islam at Israel's Bar Ilan University, said that the two-state solution under the Oslo Accords had largely already failed and that Kerry's efforts would be in vain.

"I think he doesn't understand the mindset of the Middle East. Because of the Islamic approach to the Jewish State there can't be a real peace," he said.

President Peres was the orchestrator of the Oslo Accords - an interim framework intended to lead to a final two-state solution for the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict - along with former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and the PLO's Yasser Arafat. The three were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994 for their efforts.

But there is still no final status agreement almost 20 years on from Oslo. It's something that Peres is personally invested in, especially with just one year left of his seven-year tenure as president. His 66-year public service career, in which he served twice as prime minister, saw him start out as a hawk, but by the early 1970s he became known as a dove; a strong supporter of peace through economic cooperation.

Palestinians mens use a ladder to cross over a separate wall Picture by Johanna Geron
Although time is running out, there is still hope that the hurdles to a two-state solution can be overcomeImage: picture-alliance/dpa

"You know, he never stops," said former British Prime Minister Tony Blair during celebrations on Tuesday. "Two weeks ago down by the Dead Sea he was still speaking with the same passion for peace, for two states for two peoples, for the end of conflict, and for the hope of better to come."

Former US President Bill Clinton also used his visit to Jerusalem to put his weight behind the peace process. Israel's only choice was a two-state solution if it wanted to remain a Jewish democratic state, he said, at a gala event of the Peres Academic Center, referring to the surging Palestinian population in the West Bank.

"You have to cobble together some kind of theory of a two-state solution, and the longer you let this go just because of sheer demographics the tougher it's going to get," he said.