- Alliances beat isolationism, Israel’s ex-president says
- How start-up nation can help build a start-up region
Shimon Peres, Israel’s unfailingly internationalist former president, has a message for Donald Trump.
“To suggest that America will disconnect her relations with NATO, that America will leave the whole field open to other countries -- in my judgment it’s a mistake,” Peres said. “A very great mistake.”
In an interview on the eve of his 93rd birthday, Peres spoke about soft-power politics and how technology can create the conditions for Middle East peace. The Israeli Innovation Center, his latest project, will trace the country’s rapid development into a hi-tech powerhouse, and aims to be a place where Israeli and Arab entrepreneurs can share insights and collaborate.
“We want to make not just a Startup Nation, but a Startup Region," Peres said. "Science doesn’t have flags. Science doesn’t have borders."
The “New Middle East” he touted two decades ago has yet to materialize, but Peres, who shared the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize with Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat, remains a believer in the power of diplomacy. He was one of the first Israeli politicians to voice support for the Iran nuclear deal, and in the wake of Brexit and terrorist attacks across the continent, he says the solution for Europe is to integrate more deeply.
Peres avoids naming Trump -- it wouldn’t be politic to comment on a U.S. election -- but offers oblique criticism when asked about the Republican nominee’s program.
America “was the first superpower in history that did not take, but always gave,” he said. “Giving is wise: You create friends, and friends are the most profitable enterprise you can have, because to have enemies is very expensive and you waste money and you waste time. What for?”
Turning to China, Peres said the Asian power needs to decide if it will follow the example of Europe -- which built empires through conquest -- or the U.S. China seems to be borrowing from both playbooks, he said, building infrastructure for developing nations while sending its navy to press claims for disputed islands close to its neighbors’ shores.
“I do believe that the present leader of China, Xi, understands the contradiction, and wants to achieve harmony” between the two approaches, Peres said. “What you can do with relations is greater than what you can do with guns.”
That doesn’t make him a pacifist -- Peres was instrumental in building Israel’s nuclear program, and in 1996 oversaw Operation Grapes of Wrath against Lebanon -- but he does appreciate the benefits of soft power. Though he served two times as prime minister, it was only after Peres became president in 2007, bringing energy and gravitas to what had been a largely ceremonial post, that his popularity in Israel soared.
“As president I was more successful, I had more opportunity than as prime minister,” he said. “Why? I didn’t have the power to give orders, to command, but I had the opportunity to call people to volunteer. In my period of presidency, I never heard the word ‘no.’ ”
As the Palestinian Authority threatens to sue the U.K. over the 1917 Balfour Declaration -- something Peres compares to refighting the Crusades -- Peres at 93 remains focused forward.
"The past is dead," he said. "The future is the agenda."