Savir's Corner: Peres’s tomorrow

Peres is ageless; that goes not just for him, but also for his view of what young people can achieve.

June 13, 2013 19:58
President Shimon Peres [file photo]

President Shimon Peres 370. (photo credit: Mark Neiman/GPO)


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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.

What makes him a positivist for the future is his deep belief in human nature.

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 many.

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 written.

Based on these characteristics and views, Peres has a vision of Israel’s tomorrow. He is a great believer in education and know-how.

In 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 world.

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.

He 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 experience.

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 fortunate.

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 next week.

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 and honey.

Our independence and strength must be translated into good international relations; that will contribute to our economy, defense and society.

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.

These 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.

Ruling another 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 Initiative.

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.

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