Peres: Middle East is embarking on ‘a different destiny’

President tells Conference of Presidents that hi-tech over ‘hasbara’ is needed to fight poverty that has led to regional unrest.

President Shimon Peres Conference of Presidents [file] 311 (photo credit: Moshe Milner / GPO)
President Shimon Peres Conference of Presidents [file] 311
(photo credit: Moshe Milner / GPO)
Israel has a new war on its hands, according to President Shimon Peres.
“Now we face not a military attack, but a diplomatic attack, because the diplomatic mood in the world is on the side of peace and they expect us to conclude it,” Peres told the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, convening at the Inbal hotel in Jerusalem on Wednesday.
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Israel is demonized at the United Nations, he said, and while the UN does not decide Israel’s future, it does attack Israel.
“We have to adapt our policies to the new atmosphere,” Peres said.
This new atmosphere also includes the upheavals taking place in the Middle East.
Regarding the recent and ongoing events in various countries throughout the region, Peres said, “We are entering a new chapter, a different destiny of the Middle East.”
The change, he explained, was “remarkable, not more of the same.
This time it really is different, it’s totally different.”
Peres characterized the new developments as a rebellion rather than a revolution, because they were not driven by the army, by religion, by a political party or by government.
Focusing specifically on Egypt, he said, “It wasn’t organized at all. It was a revolt without leaders.”
In the president’s opinion, poverty more than anything else sparked the rebellion.
Poverty is not new, Peres acknowledged. What is new in this groundswell of unrest is communication, such as Facebook and Twitter, which provide a voice for the wounded and convey an urgent agenda.
Peres did not speculate on what would happen next, but warned that a change in regime does not guarantee a change in the situation, especially in a country such as Egypt, where the population keeps multiplying at a rapid pace and everything depends on the Nile.
The Muslim Brotherhood cannot make the country successful, he said.
The essential problem is how to provide economic growth when there is a growing population. It can be done, said Peres, citing as examples India, China and Indonesia, “but the key to change is joining the 21st century.” In the case of Egypt, it has moved forward from old agricultural traditions to a system of science and technology.
Israel is a very good example of this, Peres underscored.
“We don’t have land or water, but we have agriculture based on high technology,” he said.
Turning to the seeds of discontent in Tehran, Peres declared Iran to be “among the most corrupt countries in the world,” and said that the world must make a choice between Iran and Egypt. Whereas the revolution in Egypt had been relatively nonviolent, in Iran, he said, one could see on television that lawmakers were urging the judiciary to “kill the opposition.”
Such people bring shame upon Iranian history and culture, added Peres.
Anticipating the demise of the current Iranian regime, he said, “Iran will be stopped not by money, but by its own people.”
With regard to the democratization of the Middle East, Peres noted that democracy cannot be introduced to non-democratic countries without getting rid of existing leaders.
“Otherwise it’s like inviting a turkey to a Thanksgiving party,” he said.
He also cautioned that it will be difficult to introduce democracy to countries in which there continues to be discrimination against women. In such countries, husbands don’t want democracy, he said.
“If you don’t have it at home, you perpetuate ignorance and poverty.”
A tireless advocate for hi-tech as a weapon against poverty, and even against violence, Peres opined that the waves of social unrest that are moving across the region would never have happened without Internet and Facebook.
“The greatest weapon of the revolution is the iPhone,” he said.
But aside from the iPhone are those aspects of hi-tech that can provide relief from hunger.
“All countries that abuse democracy but open their arms to hi-tech should be given a chance to introduce the first test of a new world,” added Peres, underscoring that Israel should not make the mistake of thinking that it was superior to the Arabs.
“The Arabs are just like us,” he said, briefly touching on what the Arabs have given to civilization. He was glad that they were “trying to reach their proper rank” because this strategy “offers a better chance for dialogue.”
Mindful that governments do not have the money to handle the problem of poverty, and that governments are usually unwilling to take risks, Peres said it was up to the nongovernmental sector that does have money and is not afraid to take risks “to give money and know-how to sick countries and make them healthy so those countries can take care of their sick people.”
Peres also views science and technology as a far more effective tool than public diplomacy.
“When you fight terror, you can’t have hasbara [public diplomacy],” he said, pointing out that extreme fanatics use Israel as an excuse for the problems in their countries “and they’re gaining ground in the tendency to delegitimize us.”
The only way to fight terrorism, according to Peres, is to “complete the process in peacemaking with the Palestinians,” and while doing that, simultaneously help neighboring countries with hi-tech solutions such as water conservation and water recycling.
Peres was confident that such measures would, to a large extent, stifle the anti-Israel demagoguery popular among those who have evaded their own countries’ problems by attacking Israel.