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British Foreign Secretary David Miliband almost missed his plane back to England on Monday because he was still smitten by an idea about electric cars he had discussed with President Shimon Peres this week and last January.
When Miliband met Peres in Davos last year, neither held the position that he does now. Miliband was secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs, and Peres was Israel's vice premier. Miliband had specially asked to meet Peres because he had heard him talk about pollution-free cars with electric engines. The idea fascinated him and he wanted to hear more.
On his trip to Israel this week, he said he wanted Britain to adopt the plan. In the course of a meeting with Peres en route to the airport, Miliband told him that following his return from Davos he had told almost everyone he met about the electric cars. Most people looked at him as if he was mad. But when he elaborated and said that Peres was the father of this brainchild, the idea gained acceptance.
Since Davos, the electric car concept has developed into much more than an idea and has been taken up as a challenging venture by Israeli mega business entrepreneurs Shai Agassi and Idan Ofer, who expect to sign a production agreement next month with a high ranking representative from Renault who will come from France to Israel for the signing ceremony. Other Israeli business magnates have also expressed an interest, and if the trial run goes well, the commercial launch should be a bonanza.
Miliband and his entourage were accompanied by British Ambassador Tom Phillips and Israel's new ambassador to the Court of St. James, Ron Prosor, a former director-general of the Foreign Ministry.
Miliband was confronted by a phalanx of media people as he entered Beit Hanassi; he turned to them and bade them a pleasant "good morning" without missing a beat in his stride.
Before his arrival, Beit Hanassi staff had set out the guest book for him to sign on a glass-topped table that once belonged to British prime minister Benjamin Disraeli and which had been presented to Beit Hanassi by brothers David and Jonathan Herman.
However, the table - which needs restoration - was considered too fragile, and moments before Miliband's arrival the guest book was transferred to a lectern and the table moved safely out of the way.
Miliband and his entourage waited for a few minutes in the small reception room for Peres to make an entrance, and when he did, they greeted each other like old friends.
"How are you enjoying your job?" asked Miliband as they took their seats after a round of introductions.
"Very much," replied Peres explaining, "For 60 years I was a sort of a manager. Managers are basically busy with administration and settling frictions. When you have no administration, you have no frictions." He used to spend about 60 percent of his time settling or preventing frictions, he said, and now he feels free.
Peres then launched into his favorite theory that true peace can come about only when tens of thousands of unemployed Palestinians have jobs.
It was much more important to strengthen Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas economically than with military force, said Peres.
In this context he said that there could be more effort on the ground on Israel's part to improve economic relations with the Palestinians by providing them with more jobs while political negotiations were going on.
There are more than ten Palestinian institutions of higher learning in the West Bank producing academics who are unemployed, frustrated, poor and embittered, said Peres. He asked Miliband to encourage British and international corporations to invest in the Palestinian economy and thus provide jobs for the unemployed.
With due respect to Annapolis, there can be no real peace without a flourishing economy, said Peres.
At the conclusion of the meeting, Miliband was asked by The Jerusalem Post whether he had found time to meet with some of his many relatives in Israel, and if so, whether they had tried to influence him politically.
In fact, he had dined with numerous relatives in Mitzpe Yeriho on Saturday night, "and in true Israeli tradition they represented the full spectrum of opinion in Israeli society, well known for the diversity and passion in which opinions are held."
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