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," Peres said.
"But I still believe he's a serious partner and a serious man and I have respect for him."
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, who say a Palestinian state can only emerge 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 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."
The November 30 vote at the UN drew a furious reaction from the Israeli government which responded by pledging to build 3,000 new settler homes, some of them in an extremely sensitive area of the West Bank near Jerusalem.
The move sparked a major diplomatic backlash against the Jewish state, deepening its isolation on the world stage.
It prompted Peres to call for fresh intervention by the Middle East Quartet, which comprises diplomats from the United States, the 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."