Peres: Those Arab countries would love the freedom Israelis have
"Democracy cannot be preserved without participation in the elections," president says, "but voting alone is not enough."
By GREER FAY CASHMAN
It is important for television viewers from Arab countries to see democracy in practice, President Shimon Peres said Tuesday, after casting his ballot at the Charles E. Smith School for the Arts in Jerusalem.
Unlike many voters who had difficulty in deciding which party to vote for, Peres came to the polling station knowing full well what his vote would be.
He was behind the poll screen for only a split second before emerging with the sealed envelope, which he then held for several seconds over the slit in the ballot box while waiting for photographers to get him in focus.
He was very happy to be exercising his democratic right, like other citizens of Israel, he said, and surmised that many people in Arab countries would like the same degree of freedom of choice that is available here.
Despite the many political disputes here, Peres noted that no one is afraid to speak openly or vote in accordance with his or her conscience.
While the electoral system is problematic in that it permits too many parties, which subsequently impinges on coalition negotiations, Peres said, it has been in place for a long time and as such must be honored.
His task as president, he said, was to ensure that the will of the people should not in any way be violated. In consulting with the party factions as to who they considered would best be able to form a government, it was his duty to listen carefully and patiently so as to be sure that his choice would reflect the will of the nation.
Regarding troubles related to the Arab sector, Peres remarked that before every election there had been some kind of conflict with the Arabs that impacted on the outcome of the elections.
Peres urged young people who wanted to contribute to Israel's democracy to become politically involved.
"Democracy cannot be preserved without participation in the elections," he said, "but voting alone is not enough."
Peres, who before the election expressed concern about incitement against the Arab community in some of the election campaigns, alluded to this again when he said that all sectors of the population must be respected.
Peres also referred to criticism leveled against Israel during and after Operation Cast Lead, and made the point that none of those who criticized Israel have come up with a better, concrete solution for stopping the rocket fire from Gaza.
For all its faults he said, Israel is a great country, with wonderful people, a wonderful army and a great and profound desire for peace. "both with the Arabs inside Israel and the whole region."
Media interest in Peres was high, with foreign correspondents, as well as Israeli electronic and print media, crowding the large classroom in which Peres voted.
"The Hungarian public needs to understand what's happening here," a member of a Hungarian television crew told The Jerusalem Post.
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