The Current Conflict in the Middle East

Monday, July 31, 2006

MORTIMER B. ZUCKERMAN: Good afternoon. My name’s Mort Zuckerman. I’m honored to preside at this session, where the principal speaker is the Honorable Shimon Peres, who is now the vice prime minister of Israel.

I have just read a book by Gordon Wood about the founders of the United States, and 200 years from now, any historian who wants to write a book about the founders of Israel will include Shimon Peres as one of the leading figures. Here we are, all these many years later, and he is still a leading figure within Israel and articulating Israel’s role around the world.

So we are honored to have him, and he will discuss the geopolitical environment in which the current conflict is taking place, particularly in the light of the fact that just this morning the Security Council passed by 14 to 1 a resolution dealing with Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Without any further introduction, if I may, I’m honored to introduce Shimon Peres, with the following commentaries: A, this is on the record; B, I would ask you all to turn off your cell phones and your beepers and anything else that would make an undue noise. And then Shimon Peres will make a few comments. I will ask him a few questions, and then we will turn this session over to questions from the audience.

And without further ado, the Honorable Shimon Peres. (Applause.)

VICE PRIME MINISTER SHIMON PERES: Thank you. Thank you, Mort. I must admit that to wait 200 years is quite a long period of time. Can’t you shorten it?

(Off mike)—the war that is now being conducted between Hezbollah and Israel is, in a way, an unprecedented one—the composition, the weapons, the participants, directly and indirectly. I won’t go into it, unless I shall be asked about it. But I want to refer to one or two questions, really.

One is, what will be considered a victory? I know many people are asking here.

Clearly, it won’t be the sort of a victory that we are—used to have when there is a confrontation between armies. Armies have a front, a battlefield, a clear decision, an end to it.

Here, no, because we don’t have an army. We are not fighting an army. We are fighting groups of terrorists, individuals. They don’t have a uniform. They don’t have a flag. They don’t have a front. And you can’t beat them with a military strength or maneuver. It’s not as clear or dramatic as it is in a classical war.

What we shall consider as a victory, as end to the war, shall be the following things: A, that the Hezbollah will not return to the south—(audio break from source)—of Lebanon, and they won’t endanger the Israeli lives, they won’t build their ambushes or fire at our settlements. The second will be that there will be a total stoppage of the shooting of missiles and rockets over the heads of Israel. The third will be a control over the arsenal of weapons. It is for the first time that a terrorist group or a guerrilla has missiles, short- and long-range. And there will be an attempt to disarm the Hezbollah and have Lebanon govern herself and clearly to release the two soldiers that were taken hostage, by us.

So those are the things that we can achieve, and we must be realistic about it, not to exaggerate, not to inflame it, not to create false expectations.

But I agree with the president that we have to go further than that. What I have described is a tactical, provisional achievement. We have to look what can be achieved which is more durable, more sustainable. It’s a further look and a wider look about the Middle East. I shall try to describe what I think will be such an achievement or such a victory.

“You can’t beat terrorism with military strength or maneuvers,”
said Peres.

The present war is not just between Israel and Hezbollah; there are other subjects on the agenda. The first is the fate of Lebanon more than the fate of Israel. There is an attempt to de-Lebanonize Lebanon. In the Middle East there were two non-Arab or two non-Muslim countries: Lebanon that was Christian, and Israel, which is Jewish. The Christians lost their majority, lost their control over Lebanon, and Lebanon is no longer a Christian land. But this time, the Hezbollah is not satisfied with it. They want to build a new Lebanon that will be—with an Iranian orientation as part of the overall attempt of Iran to control the Middle East. And the problem is, will the Lebanese find the strength and the courage to decide their own destiny, or they will be swallowed up by a larger trend that will put an end to their special character and traditional history.

There are forces in Lebanon who are against Hezbollah, clearly. The most outspoken today is the leader of the Druze there, Jumblatt, Walid Jumblatt, who stood up and says that in his eyes, Nasrallah is a Hitler, is looking for prestige. But many other leaders, too, are criticizing Hezbollah and its ambitions, either openly or tacitly. But there is still a fight going on, and the fate of Lebanon, one way or another way, will be one of the indications if this is a success or a failure.

The second is the overall picture of the Middle East. There are clearly two trends, one run by Iranians to introduce a Muslim hegemony of their taste, a Shi’ite one; and the Arab countries, who wants to remain in charge of the Middle East. They think it’s their region; it’s not a Persian region, it’s an Arab region. And they think this may put an end to their character, to their destiny. And this is not of a lesser conflict than the other two that I have described between Hezbollah and Israel, between the Hezbollah and Lebanon, and now between Iran, that has a combination of four parties, it’s a quartet: two states, Syria and Iran, one state in being, which is Hamas; one state within a state, which is Hezbollah. The four of them are acting together under the auspices of Iran. Iran wants also to change the character of Syria even to the point of they want to convert the Syrians from being Sunnites to become Shi’ites, and clearly, they have an eye on Iraq as well. If they will win, it will be catastrophic all over the world. It means going back almost to the Dark Age, losing whatever they achieved in terms of modernity, in terms of freedom, in terms of change.

Probably then, you have many of the Arab countries for the first time that they are—some are supporting an Arab struggle or a Lebanese struggle. Among them is Saudi Arabia, which feels that if Iran will win, they will lose. And Saudi Arabia invested in Lebanon more than anybody else in rebuilding Beirut, in increasing the tourism to Lebanon, helping Lebanon to flourish.

I mean, the strange thing about this war is that the war started on the 12 th of July. On the 11 th of July, Mr. Solana visited Tehran on the issue of the nuclear bomb, and he got a negative answer, actually a slap on his face. And the war started again without anybody knowing what are the reasons for the war, what are the purpose of the war, what do they want really to achieve? But underneath this cover, the struggle began.

The Saudis were the first to stand up openly and clearly condemning the Hezbollah. So did the Egyptians, so did the Jordanians, the Gulf countries, many of the Arab people, they don’t want to have a Persian hegemony in the Middle East. It’s very serious for them.

It’s strange because Iran is not such a big power. Iran grew demographically over the last 15 years, from 1990 to this day, from being a nation of 30 million people to a nation of 70 million people. They added 40 million people without adding 40 million jobs. They made the land poorer, more co-opted, more disparated or divided.

But the strength of Iran doesn’t stand on the Iranian situation, but from the situation of the people who oppose Iran. As long as the world will remain divided, Iran will run wild. It is the weakness of the others that produces the strengths of the Iranians.

I mean, Israel, in that confrontation got unprecedented support of the G-8, all of them, including the Russians, the Japanese, the Chinese, unanimously, not only the United States of America. But never was this support so weak when you look at the supporters, at what they are doing, if they can really develop a united policy and a united front. And as long as the world will be divided, the Iranians will continue to run wild. They don’t have the economic strength, neither do they have the national strength because Iran is a country of minorities, it’s not homogenic. The Persians are not more than 55 percent, the rest comprises the Azers, Azerbijanians, 30 percent; 10 percent Arabs; another 10 percent different people. So they are neither a united nation, really, not developed economically, but using this lull in a weak world in order to develop a nuclear bomb. I think they use very much the Hezbollah in order to develop a little bit their penchant for the bomb with the situation in Lebanon. I believe the bomb is still their first priority, not a second one.

So is Syria; Syria, too, is not a strong country; a backward economy, an old army, obsolescent arms, a leader who is the son of a wise man, which is problematic from time to time. (Laughter.) And didn’t follow the advice of his father. His father told him that if a leader wants to be strong and to make from a hand a fist, he shouldn’t put things in the same hand, otherwise he won’t be able to close it. He must make a choice, and he says don’t put in politics and money in the same hand if you want to have a fist. I’m not sure that the son listened to him carefully, and they suffer from corruption—(inaudible).

And then there are the Hezbollah and the Hamas, shooting not only without a reason and without a purpose, but without any important achievement but the hope that they will destroy Israel or bring down our spirit. We left the land of Lebanon totally. We don’t have a drop of their water, an inch of their territory. A role in their politics we are completely out. There is no hate between the Lebanese people and ourselves. We left—we used to live together, we can live together, we understand each other. But there is no real way for them to mobilize the Lebanese for any length of time. And Hamas, too. I mean, we left Gaza completely. We followed the advice “land for peace.” We gave back the land. I’m not sure we got back the peace.

Who will win? In my judgment, in spite of all the difficulties, the winners will be the responsible world and not the irresponsible ayatollahs that want to endanger it. It won’t be a simple victory, but they don’t have, the four of them, the quartet of them, they don’t have a message. They carry a protest, a bitterness that doesn’t feed the people and doesn’t answer their needs and confronts every day a changing world.

I think that there is a chance, as the president has made, to reorient the Middle East, because today when we speak about the anti-terror and the anti-fanatic people, we have in the camp many of the Arab countries. And I want to say that in my judgment, all leaders of the G-8 don’t want to have a world that was nuclearized by bombs, including bombs in the hands of terrorists. It will be impossible to govern the bomb—the world. I think it’s true about Putin. I think it’s true about the Japanese. It’s true about the Chinese. It will be impossible to arm the world. Gradually, all the forces will get united, and today, the Security Council, if they will take the decision, it will be the first step in having a unified position.

I must admit for us it’s difficult. I don’t deny it. There are a million and a half people in the shelters who stopped many of our factories, industries, high-tech; who keep their children out of school. It’s not simple. And also to lose lives and to have every night the contribution of hundred missiles and hundred targets over our heads. But saying it, I shall say it with the same openness and honesty, I am a person who is no younger a young man, but I went through all the wars and all the peace. I never saw people so determined, so united and with double great feeling, one, that they didn’t have a choice but to go and fight, and other, that they had the moral support of many countries, including maybe the head of the United States of America. It’s very dear to our heart.

I’m not—we never ask American soldiers to fight for us. We were very careful not to make the American mothers worry because maybe one of their sons will have to go in Israel and endanger their lives. No. It is all the time by ourselves we shall continue do it. We don’t ask for any money. But the moral support and the political support is been coming because of it. It’s very important and so profound.

And other people are criticizing us. I’m not totally impressed by the criticism because the people who are criticizing the American involvement in Iraq and demonstrated against it, never demonstrated against Saddam Hussein, which surprises me. After Hitler and Stalin, there wasn’t a more brutal leader than Saddam Hussein, and nobody took the effort to demonstrate against him. We were not so much impressed.

And then, oh, when the Europeans voted they have to bring order in Kosovo, they bombed it, and the cost was very high—over 10,000 civilian lives. And I am not criticizing them, but I know how careful and how difficult it is to run a small democratic country in the Middle East. We know exactly our dimensions, but we are the—(inaudible). I was very much moved the other day visiting a hospital and seeing young woman, single, that just came from Russia a few years ago who lost one of her legs, and we asked, “Would you like to go back to Russia?” And the answer was, “I lost a leg, but I remain with my two legs here in Israel, with you, forever.” I thought that was an expression of the spirit of our people.

Thank you. (Applause.)

ZUCKERMAN: You talked about the definition of victory. There is another level of victory or defeat, and that is perception. And much of that perception is captured in global media. You have Al-Jazeera presenting pictures, and you will have presumably at some point at the end of this where, as you say, you can’t have a formal resolution of the war, both sides claiming victory. How do you deal with the perception of the end of this conflict and the consequences of that perception, particularly if it, in a sense, builds up Hezbollah and Nasrallah on one level?

PERES: This is a four-time habit with Hezbollah, and there were the same perceptions then.

A perception that doesn’t have a foundation will disappear. I know that where—it’s difficult to go through. But I also believe that while the televisions in the Arab world are mobilized, the viewers of the telephone—of the television are fair, and I wouldn’t take the rhetoric as this whole indication of their feelings. I think many people in Lebanon know that they are suffering not because of Israel. We didn’t attack them. They know they are suffering because of Hezbollah, and they don’t understand why. Only lately the Hezbollah that they are going to fight for Shebaa, but that was too late. They forgot to mention at the beginning that’s an explanation. And the more it will go, more they will learn about the truth.

ZUCKERMAN: One of the sort of widespread commentaries in this country goes to the sort of strategic objective of perhaps being able to separate Syria from Iran. Syria, of course, is more or less a Sunni country, and certainly Saudi Arabia, Egypt, et cetera, would like to find a way to keep Sunni—Syria in the Sunni camp and not in the Shi’ite camp. How do you assess that possibility?

PERES: I think that if Iran will be weakened, so will be Syria. Syria today is running a double-standard policy. They host in their land the headquarters of Hamas. The head of Hamas is in Damascus, and he is the most extreme person. His policy or his explanation that “wait another moment and Israel, they will fall down,” I think, exaggerates a little bit.

And then they’re also sending arms to Lebanon. So now we cut the road between Syria and Lebanon, so they won’t be able to ship it.

Now Syria, as I said, it’s weak economically. It’s obsolescent strategically. They are being headed by a person that represents a minority, the Alawians. For the first time there is an open opposition to Syria. And the difference between Assad Senior and Assad Junior is that Assad Senior never permitted the Hezbollah to run the affairs of Lebanon. Assad Junior is a friend of Nasrallah, and they go together, and they will go down together.

So I believe it’s also the perception is more impressive than the reality. And I know the Syrians are very careful not to develop a conflict with Israel, rightly so, because they know that militarily they are not a match to the Israeli army, because if they want to go to war, they don’t have an army.

And the ones that have armies don’t want to go to war. Syria cannot go to war without Egypt, and Mubarak says, “My army’s only for Egypt, I’m not going again to this adventure.” Neither will King Hussein that has an army. So if they want to fight together with Hezbollah, well, that’s an interesting combination but doesn’t promise victory.

I think they, too, will come to reality. I think now the international community should insist about two things in Syria. We are not going to attack Syria. We are not running the world and we cannot organize everything. But Syria should be told, A, get rid of the terroristic headquarters in Damascus; otherwise, it will be considered as a country that supports terror. And stop supplying missiles to the Hezbollah which are being fired on civilian life. I think a serious warning will do the job.

ZUCKERMAN: You have in the Muslim world now almost an explosion of radicalism, that is not limited to Hamas and Hezbollah but in a sense is perhaps stimulated by the mass media that now pervades that world and in a sense, therefore, limits the options of the leaders of those countries. How do you propose sort of addressing that kind of trend, which on one level, clearly operates against the long-term security of Israel?

PERES: Well, there is one major decision that depends upon the United States, and that is not to depend so much upon oil. It is either oil or democracy. If you have oil, you don’t need democracy. (Laughter.) Neither does Russia need it, nor does Iran need it, nor does Iraq. Nobody. And Saudi Arabia. I believe, not to go into too many details, that the nuclear energy is the real alternative. And I am not wrong, the Congress took already a first step to permit building nuclear stations for civilian energy. That will change the world completely. The oil spoils the world. You don’t have to work, you don’t have to keep freedom, you can be capricious. That’s one thing.

The other thing—look, I’m not saying it with great pleasure—all Arab countries are deeply in problems. Egypt has real problems. And I think Mubarak did an excellent job. He built the tourism, he built agriculture, he paved the roads, but he couldn’t stop the rate of birth. And whatever they have achieved economically was eaten up demographically. As a result, they are beginning to feel a shortage of water, the land is becoming deserted, and Egypt is going to face very soon the real consequences of radicalization.

Now, the indication of radicalization, in my judgment, is the attitude to women. I think the greatest achievement in the 20 th century was the liberation of women. A nation that doesn’t liberate the women is half a nation. But furthermore, they kill their children, because where the women are being subjected to the will of their husbands or their rulers, what’s happening is they are being forced to marry young, at the age of 14, then they produce 10 children or 12 children.

At the age of 24, the woman is totally exhausted. She didn’t have a chance to be educated, so her children are becoming the victims of her ignorance and her fatigue. In modern times, you invest in the number of children less, and you invest more in every child. And the woman herself is educated, so she produces an (agent ?) for the future.

And the gap is growing, and growing daily. Daily. I mean, being radical is not such a pleasure; it has a cost and it has consequences.

And also, for the first time, slowly, but one can see that there are countries who came to the conclusion that you can be religious and modern at the same time, Muslim and modern.

The best example, I think, is Turkey, which remains modern, which remains Muslim, and becomes modern. In Turkey, a religious party won the elections, and all of us were worried. And look what’s happening. The prime minister of Turkey is separating church and state, becoming more and more modern. He wants to join Europe. And I think there are some other developments, maybe not in such a clear way, but even if you take a very unique person in the Middle East, like Qadhafi, even he changed, you know. It happened unexpectedly. He gave up his arsenal.

I think there are many other countries. I think Jordan is moving in the right direction. I think that in other countries, too, gradually there are indication of it. They cannot escape the modern challenge unless they want really to keep their people backward, poor; their land as a desert, and the country under a permanent drought, shortage of water. In the coming 20 years, in my vision there will be three things that will decide the fate of every nation: water, energy, and nanotechnology. And the Middle East is becoming more and more short of water, short of energy. Israel decided to go for solar energy. I hope in 20 years we shall have most of our energy from the sun. And that’s as simple as that. Better to be dependent upon the sun than to be dependent upon the Saudis. (Laughter.) The sun is more permanent, even more democratic.

So eventually, everything has its own reaction. But radicalism is not such a great sell in life.

ZUCKERMAN: Let me ask you one last question before turning the questions over to the audience.

Where do you think the Western nations and Israel, with or without the Western nations, where do you think they should focus on to develop a positive trend to counter what to many seems to be a continued deterioration of the politics of the region and of the Muslim world?

PERES: Two things. One, I think modernization should precede democratization. I think what changed China is not democracy, but high tech. I think what changed South Korea; I think what changed Europe itself, after a thousand years of skirmishes and wars and civil wars, is modern economy.

Now, I want to tell you something that you may like, and me, as a Labor Party, began to like, too. Let the private world do it. You know, I reached the conclusion that governments are good for war and poor for peace. (Laughter.) They are good for war because they don’t have a choice. If you are being attacked, you are united. And whether you have money, you don’t have money, it’s like having a sick person at home, you want to spare them buying medicine. So when you are attacked, you have money for defense, even if you are very poor. When it comes to peace, governments discover that they have budgets, they don’t have money. The difference is that budgets, the ministers, all of them in the ministry are short of budget. I don’t know any minister that has enough budget. So nothing is being left for the generosity of peace, because peace, too, needs a budget and needs participation. And then also, the problem with peace is not peace, but the cost of peace. Everybody’s for peace, but every minister is afraid that he’ll be accused that he made too many concessions. Who wants to do it? Too many compromises. Say, why the hell did you give away so much? And how can you measure it, how can I explain that I didn’t give away—this is the other poor negotiator. And ministers want to survive, so they won’t risk very much their tenure.

On the other hand, private business have money, they don’t have budgets. They know that they don’t have to protect things that accumulated. Everything that is accumulated is losing all the time its value. The greatness of modern economy is not accumulation, but penetration.

It is what you discover more than what you (conserve ?). So companies have the tendency to take risks, the culture of risks, and they’re looking all the time for emerging markets, for emerging opportunities, and for emerging technologies.

And now, you know, private companies today are more international-minded than foreign offices. They want to have stability, they want to have peace, and they want to have also communal relations. They don’t want to be hated. And if I may say also, the management of private business today is different from the old—(inaudible)—you know, very intelligent people, highly educated, they understand the language. But I think that let government defend the land. Let private business to build the peace.

I am now writing a book which is being called, “The Privatization of Peace.” And I believe that’s the right approach in our case as well. So, fighting radicalism is privatization and globalization, in my judgment.

ZUCKERMAN: Thank you.

PERES: And by the way, every country, even radical countries, wants to have private investment.

QUESTIONER: Hi. Thank you for an excellent talk. When you were last at the council, the speaker preceding you was General Barak. And Barak’s point, as I understood him—most of us were here at the time—right after the completion of principal military operations in Iraq, was the United States had undertaken an enormous gamble in Iraq lacking international support, and if we are unable to bring it off successfully, the lack of credibility could have horrible consequences around the world and, indeed, in the region.

Would you care to comment on General Barak’s view and whether our initiative in Iraq is, indeed, causing some of the issues and problems we’re having today?

PERES: Well, I would be very reluctant to comment on the remarks of General Barak. But I would ask myself, suppose you wouldn’t do it? You know, when you do something, you get criticized. (Inaudible)—wouldn’t do it, Saddam Hussein would have an nuclear bomb exactly like the Iranians.

You know, when we bombed a nuclear reactor in Iraq, I was among the few who opposed it publicly because I thought that—(inaudible)—reactor it will go for centrifuges, and then you wouldn’t know where are they, how to prevent them. You would be blind. What prevented Saddam Hussein from having nuclear bombs is the American strike in 1991. If you didn’t do it, not only would you lose Kuwait, but you would have another Iran. And now the United States could have striked either Iraq or North Korea or Libya or Iran. Among the four, I think the right risk was Iraq because you see, Qadhafi apparently was already on his way to retreat. With the North Koreans there is always a hope that you can settle it differently, financially, economically. And in Iran, there was still a hope for an internal change. It’s very easy to criticize, but you have to compare the alternatives.

QUESTIONER: Mr. Peres, Ethan Bronner from The New York Times. I wanted to ask you if you could explain to us Israeli thinking both in Qana yesterday and in the UNIFIL the other day. As I understand it, Israel knew that there was Hezbollah rockets there and went after them. But on the other hand, it must have know the risks and dangers to civilians. How does it decide to bomb despite those risks?

PERES: Well, I shall maybe reveal a secret how it’s being decided. We know there was a base of rockets or missiles. We looked at the map, and the first consideration is, how far away is it from civilian buildings or schools? Another bomb, a base that is close to a school, a mosque, even to a private home, so they use the human shield to protect the missiles. And according to the international law, we have the right in that case to bomb in spite of the fact that there are civilians there.

And we told the Lebanese people that Hezbollah hide out, leave your homes or get rid of the missiles. You cannot have a missile like a cat or a dog. There are not pet missiles. And we shall not wait until you fire them. In the case of—(word inaudible)—Qana, I know that the distance was measured, and the distance was 300 meters; 300 meters is safe enough not to hit civilian lives. We are investigating what really happened.

QUESTIONER: (Off mike) --


QUESTIONER: About the UNIFIL base.

PERES: That the—(word inaudible)—Qana in—(inaudible) --

ZUCKERMAN: No, no, no. The four U.N.—four U.N. were—

QUESTIONER: Four U.N. guys—

PERES: I don’t know exactly the details, but I can tell you that no Israeli would ever dare thinking of hitting anybody from UNIFIL. I regret very much the reference of—the remarks Kofi Annan.

But look, in war there are mistakes unfortunately. The greatest mistake is the war itself.

I can ask how it did happen that you hit the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, you know? I don’t have the slightest doubt that that was done intentionally.

And the best way to stop it is for Hezbollah to stop shooting them. They fire like crazy.

ZUCKERMAN: A question back there.

QUESTIONER: I’m Marty Gross from Sandalwood. I didn’t hear in your definition of victory anything having to do with Iran.


QUESTIONER: Anything having to do with Iran. And I’m wondering whether your definition of victory or part of your desired outcome for this conflict would be a different Iranian perception as to how it thinks about whether or not it should attack Israel like it has said. So I’d like to know what you thought about.

PERES: Well, the word “victory” has a military sound. For me, victory is peace. We want to achieve peace. We don’t want to achieve, you know—we are not Napoleans. We are, rather, Jean Monnet, if you want. (Laughter.)

And then, when it comes to Iran, frankly, we don’t think that we can handle the situation in Iran. We have to live with dangers. I think Iran is a danger to the world, and so it goes against the Israeli character. In that case, we have to be really modest. It’s very difficult for us. But we don’t feel that we can run the world. Iran is a problem for the rest of the world. Israel is not going to handle Iran. If we shall be attacked, we shall answer yes, but we shall not initiate it.

You know, we didn’t attack the Hezbollah, so we knew they are collecting an arsenal of 12,000 missiles. We didn’t attack Syria, so we know that they host a headquarter of terrorists. Our line is, unless we shall be clearly attack—attacked, then we shall answer, but we are not the one that can put in order in the world. We don’t have the strength, and we don’t have the ambition. And I am sure that finally that’s what will be done by the responsible international community.

ZUCKERMAN: I’m asked to read a question from one of the national members, Krista Frannitz (ph), who is a professor at Yale.

All the evidence points to the fact that Israel’s current robust responses in Gaza and Lebanon are shifting more and more moderate Arabs supportive of the two-state solution into the militant camp seeking the destruction of Israel. While I understand Israel’s express need to defend itself in this particular way, what is your long-range strategy, with Israel predictably surrounded by an ever more militant, better-equipped and ever-growing sea of enemies, which will sooner later even include more radical regimes in Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states?

PERES: I’m not sure that I agree with your presumption—(off mike)—about it. How can you radicalize radical people?

You know, at the beginning, the whole Palestinians were against us. Today they are split. Even—the Hamas won the elections; they didn’t win the votes. They won the elections because of the electoral system. But you have today among the Palestinians a leader who stands up openly and calls for peace. And he has half of the Palestinians. What makes you feel that he was radicalized? On the contrary, he’s afraid of radicalism.

I don’t think that Saudi Arabia was radicalized, or Jordan, or Egypt—nothing whatsoever.

(Off mike)—the press is being radicalized. Again, I would be careful not to insult a nation or a people.

The problem is usually the world in the Arab culture has a different role than in the Western one. The role of the world is not so much to commit yourself as to beautify life. One of the poets—Arab poets that I admire is Qabbani—great poet, really. And he wrote a poem saying the time has come that Arabs will liberate themselves of the worst imperialism in their life, and he says this is the imperialism of the words, of the expression.

So when you say “radicalism,” it’s rhetorically so. I don’t believe that the Palestinian people are happy with what the Hamas is doing to them. And I think that what’s happening in Gaza is a tragedy. I think Lebanon is the tragedy of the Iranian ambition.

Now, what can we do? Suppose they are being radicalized. So what? Could they let them continue to shoot and fire? I mean, we don’t deal with psychology, we deal with life and death.

ZUCKERMAN: Question back there, right at the aisle.

QUESTIONER: Thank you. Ponchitta Pierce, a writer. I wonder, in your own quite moments, if you could share with us what you think. What surprised you the most about this or what concerned you the most? Some have suggested the strength of Hezbollah. Others have suggested perhaps not as strong intelligence in this area that might have been there. It is almost like saying if you knew them what you know now—meaning the country—might it have responded differently?

PERES: What I know now may be wrong tomorrow. (Laughter.) So what does it matter?

I know what I want. I don’t know what will happen. What I want is peace. And what I want is a Middle East that no child will be killed, no matter if he’s Arab, Jewish, Druze. Doesn’t matter. I really want peace.

I really believe that the better the Palestinians will have it, a better Palestinian neighbor we shall have.

I really want peace for Lebanon.

I don’t feel that we have a territorial appetite or political ambition. What we would like to be is a nation that lives in peace with their neighbors and respecting two things which are essential for our lives—the old values and the new technologies, the Bible and the Internet—and let other people live, like us, in peace.

And I do believe it’s possible, not by war but, as I have said, by introducing modernity, high tech. You know, you cannot be modern without having values, including the Chinese. If you want to be modern, you must open your skies. You must lower your frontiers. You must maintain transparency, because if people will not believe you, they will buy nothing from you. You don’t buy anything material. You buy anything with this potential. (Off mike)—must be trustworthy. There must be mutuality. There must be freedom.

It’s not just, you know, you introduce some new equipment. You introduce a new relationship. And I believe we shall win. And I’m not going to give up tactics, because, my God, I saw so many disappointments in my life, and I never gave up. And finally, it took more, it was more costly than I thought it will, but the fact that we have peace with Egypt, for me it’s a sensation. So it took a long time, a long time in personal terms, not in historic terms, but we have peace with Jordan. That I see their position now in the Middle East. I think we shall have peace with the Palestinians.

I know it sounds today a little bit, you know, fantastic or a fantasy. Doesn’t matter, because I know they don’t have a choice, we don’t have a choice. Wealth does not stem from the land, but from the mind. You must be intellectual in order to make a good living or a real living. And they cannot live on the past. And they will discover it more and more every day. And on the new, the new is not just technical, the new is also a call for different (vouchers ?). So you can’t move me.

ZUCKERMAN: A question on the corner.

QUESTIONER: Bob Lifton, Medis Technologies. Apropos of your dream of peace, peace with the Palestinians requires, in their view, separation from the land. So in their view, it’s tied to land. And given the events that have just happened, when Israel left Lebanon and the impact of that on Israel, when Israel moved out of Gaza and the impact of that on Israel, for those of us who have long believed in peace, like yourself and like myself, what is the hope that any future Israeli government will ever take that risk again, that the Israeli people will ever support that kind of risk again, and that your dream and the dream of many of us here can ever be realized?

PERES: Well, I feel there will be a different regrouping. I think, for example, that even a country like Saudi Arabia may play a role in peace. They were until now very shy, but they have discovered that they have to participate in the struggle; otherwise, they may have oil, but they won’t have Saudi Arabia. It’s endangering them. And I believe it’s happening slower than I would like to.

No, they won’t give up land unless they will have an alternative, which is high tech. Look, we have in Israel—we are 7 million people today in Israel. We have 1,200,000 non-Jewish, When I used to visit an Arab village, say 10 years ago, the topic was land. “Why did you confiscate land?” “Why did you take away our land?” Today when I visit, the topic is not land, the topic is education. Among the 1,200,000 Arabs who are Israeli citizens, there are already 50,000 academicians, a force, and they have 16,000 students at universities. And what is even more telling, 65 percent of them are women.

So I can see the silent revolution, unannounced, and I think that we have to invest more and more in their education to help them to raise their standard of life. I wouldn’t go for the Chinese system of controlling their birth by laws and government, because China will have problems. When they have one child, he will probably become a spoiled child. (Laughter.) It’s for the first time that the Chinese are having fat children. (Laughter.) I mean, everybody has (a cause ?), and I would go differently. I would say, on the contrary, let’s have more academicians.

Now our problem is Israel is not to have just more Arab academicians, and that’s one of my jobs that I am trying to (bring ?), but to give them proper employment, because if an uneducated person is unemployed, it’s some problem; when an educated person is unemployed, it is explosive material. But, you know, I visited, a week ago, one of our hospitals in Afula. The patients in the hospital are 50-50, 50 Arabs, 50 Jewish. But the staff is really 30 percent Arab doctors, nurses. And for me it’s an encouragement.

So I see also the silent plans which don’t emerge immediately. And the more conditions there are—you know, 10 universities in the West Bank, they have 100,000 students. Still, their curriculum is old fashioned—more religious and less general studies. But it will happen. They move around, too. The world is on a move. We were attached to the land, which is immobile. But once the land was replaced by science, the world is mobile and people are moving from land that has workers and doesn’t have work, to places that have work and doesn’t have workers.

And look what happened to Europe. The inner revolution is unbelievable. Europe’s supposed to be a Christian declaration vis-a-vis Russia at the time. It was created by three great Catholic leaders, de Gasperi, Schuman and Adenauer. They never dreamed that all of a sudden Islam will emerge from a different (order ?) altogether, and all of a sudden they face a problem of identity. I don’t think there is one move radical, unradical. No, there are many moves and many changes.

ZUCKERMAN: There are many, many people here who would like to ask additional questions, but we have run out of time, unfortunately. I want to thank our very honored guest for a very illuminating dialogue. And I want to thank you all for participating in it.

There will be sandwiches and a buffet in the Greenberg Room for all who wish it. And again, on behalf of the council, thank you very, very much. (Applause.)









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