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Hard Choices

Shimon Peres on the New Middle East

Shimon Peres on the New Middle East

Illustration by Jimmy Turrell

Many people say I was wrong when I talked about the new Middle East and the need for more ties with our Arab neighbors. I’m not wrong. It’s just taking more time than I thought. I wish we could shorten the time in moving from one world to another.

The present Arab uprising didn’t stem from Israel. The old guard is trying to keep down the young chickens. The old guard is better organized. They may win elections, but unless they have a solution to poverty, to corruption, to oppression, they will not last. I am with the young people.

Right now it’s a transitional period that’s full of suffering and blood. Israel has to be very careful not to appear to intervene in the changes which are so painful. I admire the people in Syria who are going against open fire to demonstrate. Clearly, there’s no future for a dictator. New technologies open people’s eyes.

You know who is against democracy in the Middle East? The husbands. They got used to their way of life. Now, the traditional way of life must change. Everybody must change. If you don’t give equal rights to women, you can’t progress. This region can’t remain separate in a world that became global. It will happen. I’m optimistic about our future. I’m optimistic about America’s future. The United States is the only power in history that became great by giving and not by taking. I think the crisis was when the United States had more money than ideas. Money doesn’t produce money. Ideas produce money.

I didn’t plan to be a politician. The founder of our country, David Ben-Gurion, called me from the kibbutz to serve in the underground. We were short of manpower, short of arms. I was 24 years old. I was supposed to serve my country for one or two years. I am 89 years old this year, and I keep going.

People waste too much time thinking about what to be. The problem in life is not what to be, but what to do. What choice do we have but to work for peace? Peace with Palestine is something most Israelis would like, but they find hard to support. They’re worried that we’re going to become too soft and submit to too much pressure. My answer is that we have to take a risk. There are two things in life you cannot achieve unless you close your eyes a little bit. That is love and peace. — As told to Diane Brady 

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