NEW YOR K – President Shimon Peres finished the second leg of his US tour in New York on Sunday. Following a farewell dinner in Washington, Peres rolled out his greatest hits in a wide-ranging interview with veteran broadcaster Charlie Rose on Sunday afternoon in front of a packed congregation at the Park Avenue Synagogue in Manhattan.
Moving from his hopes for the future of the Jewish state to his memories of David Ben-Gurion (“He was a totally innocent person. A person without any cynicism”), Yitzhak Rabin (“He and I argued for the sake of the country”), and John F.
Kennedy (“He had quite a lot of white hair, not blonde”) Peres seemed at home among an audience that included Israeli dignitaries and some of the most prominent leaders of the American Jewish community.
On the question of the future of peace between Israel and the Palestinians, Peres radiated the optimism that has become his calling card. “I think there are too many skeptics among us,” Peres said. “Optimists and pessimists pass away the same way, but they live differently.
“It’s better to dream great,” he said. “The greater you dream, the better reality will be.”
But, he added, the path to find peace “will not be a walk in the Rose Garden.”
He reiterated his belief in Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, but dug a little at Yasser Arafat.
“Arafat was a very strange person,” Peres said. “He had an excellent memory. On your birthday he would send a card. The only thing he didn’t think we have to remember are facts.”
Peres’s optimism for the future apparently comes from looking at the young generation, and even at the changes happening in the Middle East around Israel.
“We have the advantage over Hamas, because we have a message for the future,” he said.
“They will not win.”
“For the first time, many Arab nations feel that terror is a danger to them,” Peres continued.
The change will come from the young generation, not from foreign actors, he said. “I don’t believe that America can solve the issue of the battle between the Shiites and the Sunnis. It’s not for the American army to decide who is the heir of Mohammed.”
On the issue of the three kidnapped teenagers, Peres said he had never seen Israel as united on any other issue.
“We assume they are alive,” Peres said.
Who is responsible? asked Rose.
“Probably Hamas,” Peres said, adding that it doesn’t matter if it was a branch of Hamas or the main body.
Rose, in his introduction of Peres, said there was a sense that the president’s retirement was a “historic moment,” and noted that his career couldn’t possibly be over: “As you’ve grown older, your popularity has simply increased,” Rose said.
“Anyone who knows you knows you will be back in New York and the United States, because of course, the question now is what you will be doing with your time,” Rose said. “We as members of the community look forward to that, because you have served your country and humanity for so long.”
Peres was also lauded by Robert Sugarman, the chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, and by Park Avenue Synagogue Rabbi Elliot Cosgrove, who presented Peres with the same kiddish cup that he gives to all Bar and Bat Mitzva congregants.
Prior to his arrival at the Park Avenue Synagogue, Peres met and dined with UN Secretary- General Ban Ki-Moon, where they discussed the three missing Israeli teenagers, and Peres encouraged Ban to continue demanding their release.
“We have a moral responsibility to condemn Hamas and fight terror,” Peres said.
He also told Ban that the situation in the Gaza strip was not Israel’s responsibility.
“I know you are worried about the situation in Gaza, but we have to tell the truth.
Hamas is responsible for the violence and is using the people of Gaza as pawns – creating poverty and chaos,” he said.
Ban lauded Peres for being “a strong partner of the United Nations” and expressed his admiration for this leadership over the years.
On the kidnappings, he said: “I’m sending again my strong solidarity, first of all, with those young people who were kidnapped and must be enduring terrible days, and their families and friends, and the people of Israel. We will do whatever we can in close coordination with international partners.”
Ban also added that the UN was “troubled” by the continuing terror attacks.