Next week President Shimon Peres will host the third Presidential Conference in
Jerusalem, on the topic most on his mind – “tomorrow.”
Leaders from the
world over, from all walks of life, will join Peres to brainstorm about the
future of the world and the future of our region. They are also coming to pay
tribute to Shimon Peres on his 90th birthday, to his role as Israel’s ultimate
nation builder and to his brilliant foresight.
At 90, his mind will still
be the youngest at this impressive gathering.
The youthfulness of Peres’s
mind comes from letting his mind always travel to the future, and not be
burdened by past history, prejudices or nostalgia.
Peres is a rare
leader, not focused on quarreling with the past, but on planning the future. To
him, imagination is more important than memory. I had the privilege to work at
his side when he was 60, and I believe I have a modest insight on how he deals
with the future.
Peres is considered a great visionary; yet he is much
more than that. To him, the future is not a dream, but a plan. He learns from
human nature and technological progress, and attempts to help build a future
according to humanitarian values and ambitious positivistic goals. He can indeed
be defined as an “architect of the future”.
He is bored by the past.
History to him is written in the red ink of blood – a celebration of military
victories and a commemoration of defeat and loss.
The future intrigues
him, written with the blue ink of life. The past cannot be changed, but tomorrow
can be a transformation.
Peres constantly questions common beliefs and
knowledge. He is not hypnotized by existing theories. He is a rebel against past
mistakes, and in favor of a better future. In Israel and modern Zionism, he sees
a dramatic revolution breaking out of the walls of the ghetto and into
independence, strength and a respected place among the nations. He intervened in
our modern history, with groundbreaking transformations, from our strategic
deterrence power in Dimona, to our technologically developed economy, to our
pursuit of peace. Peres’s tomorrows since 1948, are Israel’s today.
makes him a positivist for the future is his deep belief in human
Peres believes that humans are born good, often spoiled by
backward social and religious norms. People, to him, are driven by the desire
and ability to conquer new shores. Human nature combined with scientific
creativity will continue to transform life for the better, provided society is
guided by humanitarian values. Peres is color-blind when it comes to race, he
respects all religions, rejects all xenophobia and racism, and sees equality
between the sexes to be a prime condition for democracy. Real democracy and
equality must be part of the landscape of the future.
This is also true
the world over – his international heroes are Nelson Mandela and Aung San Suu
Kyi. Peres is knowledgeable and curious about the world, a man of the world and
a world statesman. He is a fervent reader, who travels the world through books.
Above all, Peres’s positivist view of tomorrow is profoundly linked to the need
for peace. He is not a pacifist, and has ordered soldiers into battle; yet he
understands the futility of war, and to a large degree of armies, in an era
where battles can be won from ancient caves of radical terrorists, using terror
or ballistic weapons.
Peace to him is not only a national need, but also
a human condition. Life is sacred, and as Peres has said many times, would he
save the life of one child, his mission would be accomplished; he has saved
At 90, Shimon Peres is an elder statesman and the youngest of
minds. He relates with great respect to the young generation, a generation he
wants to serve but also learn from. He is the first to comprehend new and social
media, as an innovative form of communication and as a vehicle for social
transformation – a new language in which the future will be
Based on these characteristics and views, Peres has a vision of
Israel’s tomorrow. He is a great believer in education and know-how.
his “Altneuland,” education leads the state’s priorities. Education from
kindergarten – he believes that children from the age of three should learn
English – this will be their entry ticket to the globalized Internet
Education will prepare the young, not just to cope with the world,
but to form it, and they must incorporate universal values.
It gives them
tools to both understand and be creative. Peres is ageless; that goes not just
for him, but also for his view of what young people can achieve.
believes that children and young people must not only be educated, but also can
educate and contribute themselves. He thinks teenagers should be able to combine
studies with work, to complement their learning with practical
This will lead them to be able to be more creative. He
believes that in everyone lies the potential to be innovative, given the
opportunity and the effort. Peres despises laziness – life to him is an
around-theclock opportunity to produce. He has little taste for selfishness –
people should serve a cause, not their ego. Fortunate communities like ours
should not only demand help, but also contribute to the less
By doing, people learn. Life is the best university. And yet
academic studies are important. Peres encourages a program for graduate studies
during military service.
From there on, one should never stop
studying. Thus, Israelis should be driven by scientific and technological
advances. These breakthroughs, while often unpredictable, should serve
the general good.
Scientific progress should be matched with humanitarian
values. His role models are David Ben-Gurion and Albert Einstein, two Jewish
leaders who have contributed to great change.
Peres’s Israel is also a
socially just country.
He has zero tolerance for people’s sense of
superiority, be it out of class elitism or racism. Israel must be a modern
democracy, combining a thriving private sector in a free market with social
empathy toward the needy, be they from Sderot, Tira or Bnei Brak. Greater
equality in Peres’s Israel can also be achieved with technological and
scientific advances such as working the soil. Land, air and water are given to
us for free, and we must make the best use of them. A just society is not an
equal society, but a society with equal opportunity for all. Peres’s socialism
is based on biblical teachings, not on Marx.
Our president is a man of
the world, respected the world over. Hundreds of leaders will pay tribute to him
Yet his perception of Israel’s relation with the world is not
based on popularity; it goes much deeper.
Zionism was created to resolve
the Jewish predicament in the Diaspora. Independence became necessary to defend
Jewish life; so was the building of our strength.
Yet once achieved, it
should help to break the walls of the ghetto that historically surrounded Jewish
life. Israel is strong but small and without natural resources, only with milk
Our independence and strength must be translated into good
international relations; that will contribute to our economy, defense and
In tomorrow’s borderless world, we can either belong as a
success story, or remain behind in isolation. We must open up to trade,
investment, know-how, culture and mainly to universal values. This is true not
only with our prime ally the United States, but also with the EU and with all
regions, not least with the Middle East.
Above all to Peres, tomorrow is
about peace with the Arabs. Without it, all other achievements and goals could
fail or evade us. Peace must be based on good relations of mutual
self-interests. Peres knows the Arab world better than so-called experts for
Arab affairs. He understands that our neighbors, too, seek better economies and
a place in the globalized world; if not the leaders, the people do.
common interests must be turned into reality, into resolving the Palestinian
issue. Tomorrow’s Israel must be at peace with tomorrow’s Palestine. Otherwise
our very identity as a Jewish democracy is at risk.
people’s destiny is not Jewish, as our history and morality teaches us, as well
as our national interest.
A permanent-status agreement is only a means to
the real target – good neighborly relations with the Palestinians, based on
common interests. Peres knows our partner’s strengths and flaws, and he knows it
is possible. It will lead to a better regional relationship, based on the Saudi
It may be a relatively long process, but given our strength
it can and must happen.
Strength, to Peres, must be coupled with wisdom
and morality. Given his experience, he believes that Israel can and must possess
all three attributes.
The writer is president of the Peres Center for
Peace and served as Israel’s chief negotiator for the Oslo Accords. This column
was edited by Barbara Hurwitz.