DAVOS, SWITZERLAND // A lasting peace deal between Israel and Palestine "might happen very quickly," Shimon Peres, the Israeli president, told an audience at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
"We are sorry it has taken so long but we are nearer, at the final stage," Mr Peres said during a debate with Salam Fayyad, the prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, at Davos, the Swiss town hosting the annual gathering of the world's leading decision-makers.
Mr Fayyad said: "There must be a hope for peace but it has to be a product of conscious decision-making."
Both politicians were critical of the actions of the Middle East Quartet of powers - the US, European Union, Russia and the United Nations - which have been mediating peace negotiations between the two sides since 2002.
The Quarter "are putting the parties in a position where they have to respond under pressure," said Mr Fayyad.
"They keep setting dates which are too arbitrary and we might make mistakes under pressure," said Mr Peres.
Klaus Schwab, the founder of the Davos forum, posed the question: "Is there still reason for hope we will have reconciliation between Israel and Palestine?"
Mr Peres answered: "I am convinced there will be peace based on a two-state solution. We have not been standing still. At the same time as carrying on with diplomacy, the Palesinians have done a good job in two ways: they have started to build a state, they are building a modern city in Ramallah. And they have built a security force, with 15,000 people trained in Jordan by the US. For the first time, [the Palestinians] can provide for their own security."
Mr Fayyad said: "I agree with the president. We have to carry on building a state and negotiating for peace. But building a state requires a lot of attention and cooperation by Israel. The Palestinian Authority is the key deliverer, but it has little resources."
He cited the PA's inability to operate properly in the West Bank, where it still requires Israeli permits, and the situation in Gaza.
Mr Peres said: "For us to make peace with Palestine is not a strategy, but a historic commitment. Jewish tradition does not permit us to rule other people, or to have slaves."
Mr Fayyad said it was important to take account of the new situation after the Arab Spring.
"In one sense, the Palestinian cause has been marginalised by the wider events in the Middle East," he added.