TEL AVIV (JTA) – Shimon Peres says Israel and the world are entering a new era that is equal parts dangerously uncertain and rich in possibility.
“Our problems today are the problems of the world,” Peres said in an interview with JTA. “Who is going to win, terror or peace? Who is going to win, Iran or [the] nations?”
For Peres, who began his political career as an aide to David Ben-Gurion and at age 84 is capping it as Israel’s president, says his country’s current challenges are dwarfed by those of earlier eras.
“In 60 years we overcame more difficult periods,” he said.
Of the confrontation between sponsors of terrorism and pursuers of peace, Peres said, “I think we shall win it.”
Peres says the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has moved beyond a territorial dispute between two peoples and become part of a broader paradigm that pits backward-looking fundamentalists, including the regime in Tehran, against moderates in the Middle East.
Perhaps Israel’s most famous optimist, Peres says he sees the silver lining through the gloom, and he dismisses the notion that a window for peacemaking is closing due to rejectionist groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah.
“I don’t think we can close a window because we don’t live in a closed house,” he said. “The fanatics are also losing to growing strength of freedom and modernity.”
Driven by his vision for a more open and collaborative world, Peres is assembling a star-studded guest list for an upcoming conference called the Face of Tomorrow that will discuss the future of Israel, the Jewish world and the globe as part of Israel’s 60th anniversary celebrations.
A combination of celebrities, business tycoons and world leaders past and present are expected to attend the conference, including President Bush, Tony Blair, Mikhail Gorbachev, Barbra Streisand, Steven Spielberg, Rupert Murdoch and Google founder Sergey Brin.
The guest list is a testament to Peres’ own star power, especially abroad, where the Nobel Peace Prize laureate is embraced as an elder statesman.
Peres says he hopes the part of the conference devoted to the “Jewish tomorrow” will help enhance and alter relations between the Diaspora and Israel.
“I think we live in a new age, and we need to adapt ourselves to the new age, which is basically scientific, intellectual and artistic, and less material and less financial,” he said. “I think we are blessed with a great deal of talents and opportunities to make use of it and to be a contributing nation to the world.
“We are too small to be a market, too small to be an industry,” he said of Israel. “But we are able enough to serve as a world laboratory for new ideas.”
Peres says Diaspora and Israeli Jews have to find ways to be more creative together to become what he called a “contributing people.” In the past, he said, Israel’s needs were more material. Today they are more intellectual.
The president singled out the field of renewable energies as one area in which Israel can help bring progress to the world. Peres has lent his backing to a program to make Israel a laboratory for mass use of electrically powered cars.
Likewise, Peres is touting a joint Israeli-Palestinian-Jordanian Peace Valley initiative in the Jordan Valley to cultivating environmental and tourist projects along the Jordan River.
“I think Israel can be a green pioneer,” Peres said. “You see, the greatest enemy of humanity today in my judgment is oil because oil creates pollution and finances terror, and I prefer Israel hang on the sun rather the oil,” he said.
“The sun is more permanent, the sun is more democratic and the sun is not a member of the Arab League.”