The upcoming election will determine whether or not the moribund peace process can break out of its stalemate, former president Shimon Peres said on Thursday.
In an interview at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos, The New York Times’s Thomas Friedman asked Peres if there was any way to break the deadlock for a peace process he termed “dead in the water.”
Peres responded: “It depends who will win the elections.
There are actually two camps: one for a two-state solution and one for managing the crisis.” If it were possible to manage a crisis, the former president quipped, it would not be a crisis.
When asked what Israel’s founding father David Ben-Gurion would advise the current government, Peres, who worked with Ben-Gurion, said he would seek peace.
“Clearly he would go – I mean he went for the two states,” Peres said, referring to Ben-Gurion’s acceptance of the 1947 UN partition plan to create side-by-side Jewish and Arab states. That plan, he said, was tough to accept because it didn’t leave Israel much land, water or resources, but Israel took it anyway. The reality of Israel turned out to exceed even the dream its founders had.
“Since then I am afraid of small dreams,” Peres said. “We should have dreamed greater and larger.”
Asked if he agreed that Israel would be safer if all French Jews moved there, Peres responded, “I think a Jew must try to live freely in a free world.” Those who come to Israel, he said, should not just come because of fears of anti-Semitism, and Jews should feel free to live wherever they want.
“Anti-Semitism is not a Jewish sickness, it’s a non-Jewish sickness,” he said. “And whoever is sick should go to a doctor, because it makes the whole nation sick.”
Throughout the short interview, Peres also addressed the difficulty of dealing with Iran’s nuclear program. Israel, he said, could not act alone on the issue, which he said was a world problem.
“If we shall do alone, we shall remain alone,” he said, seemingly backing US President Barack Obama’s strategy of negotiating with the Islamic Republic.
Iran, he noted, was facing economic hardship not just from sanctions, but also from low oil prices and a drought.
“It’s very hard to be great and poor at the same time,” he said.
Peres said the idea was to keep Iran isolated until it caved in, citing apartheid South Africa as an example.
According to Peres, F. W. de Klerk, the South African president who oversaw the transition from apartheid, told him it wasn’t the sanctions that forced South Africa’s hands, as much as the international isolation, the fact that people stopped wanting to come to visit or participate with it in sports events.
“That can happen to Iran as well,” Peres said.
He also held out hope that Iran, like other places in the Middle East, would re-prioritize based on the needs of its young people.
“I’m not sure that the young generation in Tehran is of the same mind as the old leaders,” he said, noting that 60 percent of people in the Middle East were under the age of 25. “The Middle East will change finally by young people and women, because they are victims of the current state.”
Women’s empowerment, in particular, is crucial for turning around Middle Eastern economies, he said, citing a World Bank study that found Egypt’s GNP would increase by over a third if its women had full rights.
When Friedman asked Peres how, at the age of 91, he remained so active and acute, Peres said the secret was to keep working instead of taking “boring” vacations.
“Count the number of achievements in your brain,” Peres said. “Then count the number of dreams. If the number of dreams exceeds the number of achievements, you are young.”
Using the Hebrew idiom for a long life, Friedman wished Peres “Ad 120,” to live until 120 years.
Peres’s reply? “Why are you so stingy?”