Peres sworn in as Israel president

Israeli president pledges to work for peace in the Middle East.

     Peres was elected a month ago [Reuters]

    It is a president's duty to "encourage peace processes at home, with our neighbours and the entire region," Peres added in his remarks to a packed parliament.


    A former prime minister and a member of parliament for 48 years, Peres, was elected by parliament a month ago to the prestigious post. Though the job is largely ceremonial, past presidents have had substantial influence on Israeli politics.


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    Peres won the Nobel Prize along with the late Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat for a 1993 interim peace deal, Israel's first with the Palestinians, that led to the establishment of limited Palestinian self-rule in Gaza and the occupied West Bank.


    As head of state, Peres will have the job of granting pardons or commuting sentences for prisoners in Israeli jails, including dozens of Palestinian inmates Israel has pledged to release in a boost to Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president.


    While the presidency does not entail any direct involvement in policymaking, Israeli presidents traditionally speak out on key issues. The president also meets world leaders.


    Peres replaces Moshe Katzav, who resigned last month after admitting in a plea bargain for a dropped rape charge to committing sex crimes against a woman employee and sexually harassing another.

    Age no constrain


    In an interview with The Associated Press, Peres said he would fight poverty and global warming, and even expressed hope of making peace with Iran.


    "After such a long career, let me just say something: My appetite to manage is over. My inclination to dream and to envisage is greater," he said.


    He admitted that he was surprised when parliament overwhelmingly elected him president over two other contenders. In the previous race for the presidency seven years ago, parliament handed Peres a humiliating defeat.


    "I don't think there was any person who was so much attacked and criticised in these last 60 years like myself. But the fact that after 60 years of criticism, of terrible remarks, they decided to elect me as the president," Peres said. "I didn't expect it."


    Peres has long been among the most dovish members of the Israeli leadership. While aware of the constraints of the new job, Peres said he would not halt his crusade for peace with the Palestinians.


    He said that would require Israel to withdraw from significant pieces of territory captured in 1967 - a position still opposed by large parts of the Israeli public.


    "We have to get rid of the territories," he said, referring to the West Bank, insisting that this is the majority view in Israel today.


    New Middle East

    He said he would use the presidency to "encourage” the government to take steps for peace, offer advice to the nation's leaders and "speak to the people".


    "In public life, you don't use swords. You use words. You talk to people. You have dialogue. That's what I'm going to do. I don't have any force but the force of my conviction," he said.


    Many Israelis have scorned Peres as a romantic for his belief in a "new Middle East," a phrase he coined in the 1990s when peace with the Palestinians seemed close.


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