[SIDE CONVERSATIONS] [APPLAUSE]
ANNA WEISS: Good. Afternoon. My name is Anna Weiss. And I am the campus coordinator for Caravan for Democracy and the executive vice-president of the Cornell Israel Public Affairs Committee. Today, we have an incredible opportunity to hear from Nobel Peace Prize winner and former prime minister of Israel, Shimon Peres.
I would like to thank Caravan for Democracy for making this event possible, as well as the Cornell Israel Public Affairs Committee, Cornell Hillel, and Cornell University. Caravan for Democracy seeks to educate students and promote dialogue by bringing Israeli speakers to college campuses nationwide. Sponsored by the Jewish National Fund and Media Watch International, the organization encourages critical thinking about Israel and its unique role in the region.
I became involved with Caravan for Democracy two years ago, through Hillel, and find that they do a magnificent job working with student groups, like the Cornell Israel Public Affairs Committee. These organizations share the desire to bring Israel to the forefront of discussion on campus and to educate students about the values that the United States and Israel share. The Cornell Israel Public Affairs Committee, an independent, bipartisan, grassroots, political organization, is dedicated to strengthening the US-Israel relationship and has had the honor of teaming up with Caravan for Democracy and Cornell Hillel to plan this incredible event.
Cornell Hillel, the umbrella organization for Jewish life at Cornell, seeks to create a strong, pluralistic, Jewish community on campus, which affirms the diversity of Jewish students, whether political, social, spiritual, or cultural. Hillel also works to foster relationships with other student groups and to build bridges across ethnic, political, and religious boundaries.
I would like to acknowledge the hard work and dedication of all the students, staff, and faculty that have participated in the planning and execution of this event. I particularly would like to thank Andrew Tisch, Cornell class of 1971, who quietly worked with Caravan for Democracy and Cornell Hillel to bring this program to fruition and has been the catalyst for His Excellency Shimon Peres' visit.
And now, it is my honor to welcome Cornell University's 12th president, President David J. Skorton, who will introduce His Excellency Shimon Peres.
DAVID J. SKORTON: Anna, thank you for your words of welcome and for the invaluable assistance that you provided in organizing this very exciting event. My thanks also-- I want to add my thanks to those that you have given to Cornell University Trustee Andrew Tisch, to Rabbi Ed Rosenthal, and the many others who have worked so hard in recent weeks to bring our speaker to campus. I'm honored to welcome Vice Premier Shimon Peres to Cornell.
For over 60 years, Vice Premier Peres has been a dominant figure in the political life of Israel, the Middle East, and the world. He is the last of Israel's founders still in public service and the longest-serving member of the Knesset. To review his resume is to review the history of Israel and the recent history of the Middle East. He has held almost every position of note in Israeli government, serving twice as prime minister and also, at various times, as minister of foreign affairs, defense, transport and communications, immigrant absorption, information, finance, regional cooperation, and now as minister for the development of the Negev and Galilee.
Such an extraordinary career of public service would be remarkable anywhere. But it is all the more so in Israel, which has known conflict, military or political, from the moment of its proclaimed independence to the present day. At each critical moment in Israel's history, Shimon Peres has played a key role. In the 1948 War, Vice Premier was responsible for arms purchases and then naval services. In 1956, he played a lead role in planning Israel's Sinai campaign. And in 1975, following the Yom Kippur War, he signed the interim agreement with Egypt, paving the way for Israel's withdrawal from Sinai and the establishment of peace with Egypt.
During his first term as prime minister from 1984 to '86, Israel partially withdrew from Lebanon and implemented an economic stabilization plan. But Vice Premier Peres is perhaps best known for his lead role in the negotiation of the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization. The following year, he shared the Nobel Peace Prize with PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat and then Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
It is worth recalling the words of the 1994 Nobel Prize Committee. And I quote-- "for several decades, the conflict between Israel and its neighbor states and between Israelis and Palestinians has been among the most irreconcilable and menacing in international politics. The parties have caused each other great suffering. By concluding the Oslo accords and subsequently following them up, Arafat, Peres, and Rabin have made substantial contributions to a historical process through which peace and cooperation can replace war and hate.
The Nobel Peace Prize is awarded both in recognition of efforts which have been made and to encourage still further efforts. Peace has to be perpetually won." Unfortunately, the full promise of the Oslo accords has not been realized. Israel and the Palestinians remain in conflict. And fundamental differences between Israel and its neighbors persist. Recent events in Lebanon and Gaza have brought this home in a dramatic fashion.
Few issues are as politically important or as emotionally charged and divisive as those that divide Israel, the Palestinians, and Israel's neighbors. Our speaker today is uniquely positioned to present Israel's perspectives and his own on these issues. We neither expect nor hope that everyone in the audience will agree with our speaker or with each other on how these extraordinarily difficult issues should be addressed.
Like other universities, our central mission is to educate, to foster critical thinking, to introduce all of us to new ideas and perspectives, and to pursue mutual understanding in a world marked by division and uncertainty. Our duty, as a marketplace of ideas, is to debate each other with civility. With these objectives in mind, Cornell often welcomes world leaders from across the political spectrum.
In the short time that I've been president-- just last week, we were pleased to host Ambassador Lakhdar Brahimi and, in September, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. Today, you will have the opportunity to hear firsthand from another world leader on one of the most important of subjects, Israel and the Middle East. Friends, students, distinguished guests, it is my very great honor to introduce to you the Vice Premier of the State of Israel, the Honorable Shimon Peres.
SHIMON PERES: Thank you very much, President Skorton, students, ladies and gentlemen. I'm here for the [INAUDIBLE]. And you have a wonderful place. One of the students told me that this is the greatest place on earth. I won't talk about his definition.
It's a wonderful place to be. I'm here in the States for three days and for two purposes. One is to participate in a [INAUDIBLE] world party to Kofi Annan, the outgoing secretary general of United Nations. He asked me to participate in it. And I think he deserves it. And the second is to speak between two ivy league universities, Cornell and Yale. And I'm so glad to have this opportunity to meet you.
Your university has a great name. I thought they have to combine the two, because the United Nations, unfortunately, belongs more to the past than to the future. And Cornell belongs more to the future than to the past. And I want to explain briefly why do I say so-- what is the difference?
The United Nations was formed in a different age when, really, the major players in our time were nations. And today, I'm not sure that the major players are nations. And for that reason, international relationships have lost a great deal of their significance. Instead, we have global relations, which means relations among people more than among nations. Today, the greatest and most important organizations are economic firms, all of them private, all of them almost global and not any more companies with flex and definitions serving a national economy.
That is no more, in fact, the national economy. There is only national poverties. Whoever wants to have a flourishing economy must become international or other global, as I have said. Because if, during many generations, our life was dependent upon the land-- and for that reason, we divided the land. We defend it. We tried to extend it. We marked borders. We built armies. We went to war.
And maybe it was justified. Today, instead of the land, we have science and technologies. And we live not on what we have but what we may discover. We live in the future. The potential of science and technology is so great-- and we are just at the beginning-- that the former borders and divisions and concepts are out. And it will become more and more so.
Your university is really multi-language, multicultural university. You have foreign students. You have affiliated yourself with universities abroad, in Asia and the Arab world. And your outlook is really very global. You belong, really, to a new future. And you are going to participate in it to create it, to forward it, and create a different world.
Actually, I believe the present struggle between Israel and the Palestinians, in Iraq, between the Muslim world or part of the Muslim world and the Christian world, is not a clash among cultures or even religions. It's a clash among generations. There is a generation in the Arab world and the Muslim world which is very much afraid that modernity, whether people or developments, may endanger their traditional way of life-- destroy what they had, destroy what they have united, what united them.
And for this reason, they went to fight. It's a bitter fight. It's costly, to us, to them. They say, to us, because the world today is divided not so much between left and right or east and west or north and south. It's divided between terror and anti-terror. And both comprise all nations. It's global. It's multinational.
And I believe that, while it's costly to the two of us, they don't stand a chance to win, because they cannot live on the past. The past doesn't provide the capacity to flourish, to bring up their children properly, to enable the women to enjoy equality and liberty. And I do believe that the liberation of women in 20th century was the greatest achievement of that century.
And I think it's also a barometer of every nation to see if it's advanced or not-- if it still continues to discriminate half of its societies. And they cannot live on the land, because agriculture itself, as we know, went down to almost unnoticed strengths. 50 years ago, agriculture used to be 50%, 60% of the world economy. But it's hardly 1% or 2%. And if they want to make a living, they have to join in the world of science and technology.
And I believe, eventually, that they'll do it, if not the present generation, the future generation-- the young people among the Arabs and the Muslims. As it was said already, the Stone Age is over, not because there are no more stones. It's over, because there is no more age.
And that is true about the present situation as well. But in the meantime, it's a bitter confrontation. It's not a war. Because since it's not a war among nations-- nations are trying to achieve economic progress. And it's not a war, for that reason, among armies, because armies belong to nations. Nations have armies. It's really by scattered terrorists, some of them very dangerous-- the suicidical bombers.
I was shocked, really, a couple of days ago when they discovered a lady, at the age of 58, that has 17 children. And she went to commit suicide. From every angle, it doesn't make sense. It doesn't justify itself. And it's very hard to fight. Because if somebody is ready to commit suicide, it's not afraid to be killed.
And yet, we have to confront it and, at the same time, help them and help us-- help them to reach a future, help us to finish the conflict. As you know, our prime minister has, yesterday, made a declaration, after the Palestinians have shown some signs of unification-- and you would like them to be unified. They are not our enemies. Our enemies are neither Muslims nor Arabs nor any other nation nor any other religion. Our enemy is their enemy, the attempt to achieve, by violence, what can be achieved so easily by peace and progress.
And once they have shown these signs, Israel was quick to take the support, take that opportunity, and say, we are willing and ready to go for peace. Many say, generally, governments are good for war but poor for peace. They are good for war because, if you are being attacked, the nation is united, the government is united. You go on fighting until you win.
When it comes to peace, people are not divided about the peace. They're divided about the cost of peace. And it is the cost of peace that creates parties. One party says, give back half. The other says, give back everything. The other says, give back nothing and are trying to win the support of the people. And they divide the people by offering different prizes. And since they negotiated themselves, they don't stop negotiations. But they don't reach a conclusion.
So if you want peace, the problem is not to be pro-peace. The problem is really to be ready to pay the cost of peace. And our government announced that we are ready to withdraw from most of the territories, practically a lion's share for the Palestinian [INAUDIBLE]. We are there to support the creation of a Palestinian state without any hesitations. We would like to see the Palestinians live in peace, in respect, in honor, in hope, to see their children-- our children-- enjoying the fruits of great opportunities that have arrived at our age.
For us, it's not only a political choice. It's also a moral preference. You've cannot understand the Jewish life without taking into consideration that, in our concept, historically and philosophically, the moral code is the dominating code of our life. We didn't leave the house of slaves in Egypt to build a house of masters in Israel.
We don't want to occupy a land of others. We don't want to govern the life of others. We think that good will and fairness is the best weapon in order to save people from war. And I believe, it's an opportunity. Because we announced that we are ready, really, to meet them more than halfway. And as a beginning, as an opening of negotiations, it's clearly more than enough.
Because in every negotiations, you have the opening positions. You have the fallback positions. And opening of Israel, as the prime minister has announced, is far-reaching. It goes a very long way. I know that the official way will, this time, to really embark upon the path of peace, which will contribute greatly to the whole Middle East, all of other places. One of the reasons for hatred is this ongoing conflict, which we never looked for-- which we tried to get rid of, unsuccessful-- not only us, but other parties too, including the United States of the America.
The problem, still, is the different political parties-- this time, more among the Palestinians than among the Israelis. The Palestinians are divided, basically, in two parties, in the Fatah party, which is a political party. Their leader is Abbbas Abu Mazen, a very serious and honorable person, who tries his very best on his side to make peace very much, like ourselves. And he was leading this attempt to renew the peace negotiations.
But he faces an extreme group, Hamas, which is against recognizing Israel, which says they won't respect the signed agreements, that they are for the continuation of terror. But they too, eventually, will be pushed by the realities of this situation. They cannot offer their people neither food nor security nor tranquility, unless they will change their course.
Political parties are compromising. Religious parties are not compromising. And it's very hard to mix oil and water. It's very hard to convince the Hamas. But even this slight movement of them, from their previous positions to the present one, is a good omen that we should not miss the opportunity. Then let me say, following my initial remarks that, since the Second World War, the driving force in our history is more economy than [INAUDIBLE].
Whatever important changes took place since the Second World War were done economically. If you look at Europe-- United Europe-- if you look at China, which is officially still communist-- but the communists in China lost everything they have had ideologically. Look at India, which is the largest democracy of our time and awakening for [INAUDIBLE] traditional poverty. The Chinese and the Indians together are 1/4 of the world's population.
And they changed the line of poverty. Poverty went down very much, because the growth in those two large countries. But it's also true about Southern Vietnam. It's true about Japan. It's true about many other countries in Asia. And there is finally hope in Africa. The fact that Africa was ignored was a great mistake.
And by the way, what's interesting really about the global phenomena, where governments can hardly play, because globality and nationality don't go together-- and for that reason, governments gave up the control of economy-- is that, in the global age, a single person can build empires without hurting anybody, without using force. Take the example of Bill Gates. Take the Google example.
They really built economic empires. Their income, their revenues are larger than the budgets of practically all countries in the Middle East. Now, they didn't do it by forcing anybody or hurting anybody. They really did it by negotiating with the potential of the future successfully. And then once they reached this legendary wealth, they're becoming philanthropic, which I appreciate again.
They go to Africa. They try to help to overcome the traditional or the chronicle maladies of Africa, including AIDS. They're showing a feeling for their communities. And what I really wanted to remark is, when I look now at Africa, I see, the American big business and American government as well is trying to help the African to achieve new levels of development, new sense of progress, with the help of the civil society, which means private business.
And now the Chinese are also going en masse to Africa to offer China's help and the competition between the organized aid of China and the individual aid of the United States. It's an interesting meeting from every aspect. I believe it will serve the purpose properly, as it should. There is no reason, I have said, for wars. So we don't need armies so much.
We need, really, to fight the terrorists. But the world is changing. History doesn't stop to move-- and always ahead. In the vehicle of history, there is reverse. It moves all the time forward, all the time to advance. And I believe personally, too, that in the Middle East we have to introduce economic chances and opportunities, instead of hanging so much up on the militarist ranks, upon strategy, upon diplomacy.
China wasn't changed by military tanks but by an economic locomotive. And all the plans that we are now trying to do in the Middle East, in order to overcome the frozen, strategic, and political situation, is really by bringing in the new economic opportunities. We have our frontier with the Palestinians and the Jordanians. It's something like 400 kilometers long.
It begins at the Red Sea. It winds up in the north of the Syrian border, out of which, 220 kilometers are with the Jordanians. 80 kilometers are with the Palestinians. With the Jordanians, we don't have any problems. It's total peaceful. The whole border doesn't contain any barriers, any fences, any minefields, no war, or no terror. And there was no reason why we shouldn't convert it into a peaceful line, peaceful land of good relations among the three of us.
The Jordanians agreed. The Palestinians agreed. We agreed. We are working now together to make it into a reality. We're also are being pushed by nature, because we have to save the Dead Sea, which is losing waters to a dangerous point, from an ecological standpoint. And now, we took away the water from the Jordan River that supplied waters to the Dead Sea.
So the Jordan River itself is not such a big Mississippi. It has more public relations than water.
But the little water it has was essential to keep the level of the water on the face of the sea. And we have to act quickly to do so. We shall do it for the first time in the Middle East, not by national authorities, not by national management. But really, we shall do it globally, privately. And they said, governments are not good for peace. Governments are not good also to take risks.
Governments have budgets. They don't have money. And the budget means that all the ministers are fighting everybody for the piece, the share, of his ministry, which is always short of money, whether it's education, or security-- whatever you have. And at the end of the day, nothing is being left for the generosity of peace. And the ministers would like to remain popular. So they wouldn't spend the money for things which are not so clear.
Whereas, business is based on the culture of risk-taking. It is the future that is serving as the greatest promise. So I'm very glad that a response of global capital and private financing is very positive. And I'm very hopeful that this may serve as the first introduction of an economic approach to the conflict and the future of the Middle East. The Middle East-- they have some countries-- they don't need it.
They say the Middle East is divided into two sorts of countries, the holy countries and the oily countries. We, for example, are a holy country. We don't have oil. We don't have water. So is Jordan. So are the Palestinians. There are others that have oil. And they are as oiled as the democracy, unfortunately. But we have to approach it democratically and economically and build a new future.
It was a difficult period for all of us, full of blood and anger and suffering and accusations. And usually, the victims were the innocent people-- mothers and children. They didn't have anything to do with the conflict. And it's true about the Arabs. It's true about us. It was our task to return to them the right to live peacefully, the future to their children, the relations among all different nations and religions.
I can say, almost jokingly, that in the Middle East the big religions were born, because the land itself was so complicated. So we looked at heaven. And our lords told us to live in peace. They didn't tell us to continue the conflicts on the land and territory. I want to say, also, that we appreciate very much the role the United States played by the two parties.
I know there are many people who accuse the United States by being partisan. It is not the United States that has created the parties. It is the United States that is facing the parties. And whatever you'll do, you'll be accused by one of the two that you are not even-handed, that you don't do it fairly. But I believe the world without the United States would look differently.
I know the Americans are accused of being tough businessmen, hard-headed, down-to-earth. My visit would be different. There is a sentimentality and emotion in American history. The American people and their boys went to fight in many wars in all to help other people, to guarantee their freedom, their independence. Many young Americans lost their lives in those wars.
They won the wars. They won the land. But I cannot recall any occasion where the United States tried to keep, for herself, the land she won or the asset she gained. The United States [INAUDIBLE] ever think to the owners. They enabled Japan to become an improved Japan, enabled Germany to save herself from the catastrophe of Hitler. They had the Marshall Plan.
They're even today present in many corners of the world to avoid conflicts. Occasionally, it's a thankless job. Because there was always one party who says, you are here. You are there. But I'm trying to imagine what would happen to the world-- so rich in technology, so dangerous in some of the technologies-- if there wouldn't be a responsible United States. And I think, all of us should be thankful-- as we are.
The final word of all of us, when we speak about democracy, is to understand that democracy is not only the right to be equal but, also, the equal right to be different. We have to live in differences with tolerance and understanding and patience, not to overlook the dangers, but never to ignore the solutions and the future.
And I would like to wind up my remark by a small story that I have, surprisingly, from a South African friend, a Black person who is also a Muslim. And he told me a Jewish story, which was strange.
He said about a rabbi that was sitting with his pupil and discussing the very serious issue-- when is the night over? When does the day begin? Some of them say, well, when you can distinguish between a fig leaf, a fig tree, and an olive three, the night is over. And another student says, well, when you can distinguish between a lamb and a wolf, maybe the day arrived.
The rabbi kept quiet. And finally, they turned to him. And they say, Rabbi, what would be your definition? He says, well, if you meet a person who is black or white and you say, you are my brother, and when you meet a lady-- black or white or yellow-- and you say, you are my sister, the night is over, the day begun. Thank you.
Thank you. Thank you.
DAVID J. SKORTON: Thank you very, very much for the wonderful remarks. And we have plenty of time for questions. We have a microphone at row E in both aisles. And I'm going to ask, so that we have enough time to allow any question that anyone wants to ask, for the questioners to maintain the questions of no more than about a minute. And please come to either microphone. And we have plenty of time for questions.
So let the questions begin. Dean [INAUDIBLE]--
AUDIENCE: Mr. Peres, you talked about opportunities for peace. And I wanted to just ask you to, perhaps, elaborate a little bit on some things that are viewed as obstacles to peace under Israel's control? By that specifically, I mean the Israeli settlements and the construction of the security fence or wall by Israeli forces. If you could explain a bit to us how those decisions have been made and, also, what you think the way that those issues can be addressed that would lead to a more permanent peace.
SHIMON PERES: Thank you. The Israeli story can be divided almost equally. Israel is, today, almost 60-years-old. And in those 60 years, we have had to go through six wars, always outnumbered, outgunned minority. And it was always a struggle for death and life. If you would lose one war, that would be the end of Israel. We didn't have a choice.
And as long as they have thought that they can overpower us, they prefer the military option. Since the Kippur War, there is a change. And the Arabs came to the conclusion that they cannot over-power Israel. So they, too, were ready to go in the direction of peace. So the first half, the Israeli considerations was purely and mainly how to defend our land-- nothing else.
And settlements, in the eyes of some people, was a way to strengthening the Israeli presence on the West Bank. What was an important issue in time of war, became a problem in time of peace-- I admit. Usually, the achievements of yesterday are becoming the problems of today. Now, we have a problem. We have to tackle it. And I think the solution-- which is more or less accepted by the two sides-- is to concentrate.
In Gaza-- in Gaza, we left completely. We have dismantled all the settlements. And the ones of you who watched television, could see that we did it by force. The army did it. We paid heavy compensation-- about $2 billion to the settlers. And we're out. The army is out. The settlements are out.
And to our unpleasant surprise, once we handed over Gaza to the Palestinians, they start shooting at us, at our villages, at our people. We don't understand why. Here, they got everything. They say, land for peace. They gave the land. We didn't get the peace, which became a problem.
About the settlements in the West Bank, the idea is to concentrate them in small pieces of land, which may be between 8%-- some people say more, some people say less-- of the West Bank, and compensate the Palestinians with land outside the West Bank, so they have almost 100% compensation. I do believe that even the Palestinian side agreed to it. And we shall have a successful negotiation. I do believe this will be the proper solution.
On the walls, we had the problem of suicidical bombers. Unless you see it, you can hardly believe. I was prime minister when the first bus in Jerusalem exploded. I was on my way to work at around 7 o'clock in the morning. And my security people told me that there was a bomb in the heart of Jerusalem. I went to the square that was covered with blood and bodies and hands and necks.
And there were thousands and thousands of people there. When they saw me, they started to shout, traitor, murderer! Look what you did to us! And we have had to stop it. We tried to stop it in many ways. Finally, we were forced to make those walls. And since we made the walls, the suicidical bombing went down by 80%. It almost reached an end to it.
So there walls served a security purpose. I do believe that, when we shall have peace, the walls will be dismantled. And they shall have open borders, as we should have. Thank you.
DAVID J. SKORTON: Yes, please.
AUDIENCE: First of all, Vice Premier Peres, thank you so much for coming to speak with us today. It's really an honor to have you. I was wondering, given your many years of leadership in the Israeli government, if there is one accomplishment that you could say was your proudest one.
SHIMON PERES: Well, if I shall be arrogant, I'd say, why one?
If I shall say, modest, I shall say, none.
Many people ask me, what would I like that they mention-- my biography in history, and my answer, sincerely, is, if I saved the life of a single child, I think this will my greatest achievement. And I hope I did it on some occasions. Thank you.
DAVID J. SKORTON: Please.
AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] Peres, my name is [INAUDIBLE]. I'm from Israel. And during my time here in Cornell as a student, I have been trying to be the best ambassador of Israel as I could. And I brought here one of my friends. He is from Lebanon. And a year ago, he was very pragmatic about his approach to peace. And this year, after the clashes over the last summer, he is way less pragmatic about it.
And I can persuade or argue about everything we do. And I found great difficulties to argue with Karim when he tells me that his cousins in [INAUDIBLE] cannot go to play outside, because of cluster bombs.
SHIMON PERES: Because of what?
AUDIENCE: Because of cluster bombs that were launched there. And I don't know what to answer him, because I'm trying to persuade him that we are a peace-seeking nation. I hope that you will be able to assist me with it.
SHIMON PERES: Well, you know, in the wars, you make many mistakes. But the greatest mistake is war itself. If you want to prevent mistakes, don't have wars. And the cluster bombs were a mistake that our army is now investigating. But you should ask him-- here is Lebanon. We gave back, again, all the land, all the water, in accordance with the United Nations. Why did they stop bombing Israel?-- over 4,000 missiles and rockets in a month's time, every day, 200 rockets over civilian life.
And it was done by Hezbollah. But that's the problem. They have an army within an army and a state within a state. But even the Hezbollah people cannot explain. Why did they go to war? What was the purpose? What was the reason to start the war? Why did they bomb innocent life?
And we made a supreme effort to stop it. For a months time, an important part of the Israeli population was in shelters in the hot summer-- elderly people, sick people. The whole nation didn't know where a missile may fall. And to this very day, they don't have an explanation.
So again, and to tell against us that we committed a mistake-- and we say it was a mistake. We don't try to beautify it. And we don't know who gave the order to do so. It's now under investigation. But why did they start a war? The secretary general of the United Nations said that Israel has fulfilled, to the dot, all the resolutions of the United Nations concerning Lebanon.
So I would tell your Lebanese friend, look, be careful. Don't go for unnecessary wars. Don't destroy your own country. And don't endanger the lives of your neighbors.
DAVID J. SKORTON: Please.
AUDIENCE: Mr. Peres, you talked about how Israel is at peace with Jordan and how Israel seeks to have peace with Palestine. And I believe that this is a noble cause. However, my question deals with Lebanon as well. And over the last summer, Israel attacked Lebanon and destroyed Beirut. And I recognize that, in some way, it can be argued that this was in retaliation to Hezbollah rockets.
However, I see that there is a difference between Hezbollah and Lebanon and that Lebanon cannot always be put at fault for Hezbollah's actions. How then can you justify seeking peace with the war on Lebanon?
SHIMON PERES: Well, the Lebanese government has recognized Hezbollah. They are members of the government. They are members of the parliament. They are permitted to have an army, which is being trained, financed, and equipped by the Iranians. They shoot in a strange way. Now, they are threatening the integrity of Lebanon itself.
And it is for them to control them. Now, Israel didn't retaliate. What really happened is that the Lebanese-- the Hezbollah-- hided their missiles in private homes. And we warned their homes. We say, look, either take out the missile or leave the home. But we cannot permit that there will be bombs and rockets and missiles in private homes. They will fire at us.
What is our choice? How can we stop it? It's a cruel choice, I admit. But we tried many ways. And it's for the second time. And the problem, for all of us, not only for the Lebanese, is the Iranians and their affiliates that want really to control the Middle East religiously, instead of letting the Middle East live as it is today, as a group of nations.
And the leadership of Iran, as you know, want to get rid of Israel. But they also want to get rid not only of Israel. They want to get rid of the Sunnis and everybody they don't like. So it's a problem. I think that, with joint efforts, we have to bring an end to it. Thank you.
DAVID J. SKORTON: Please.
AUDIENCE: Mr. Vice Premier, I want to thank you so much, again, for joining us on campus. Just in the vein of speaking about Lebanon and also the United Nations, which you had mentioned earlier had acknowledged that Israel had conformed to all of the standards that they had proclaimed over the summer were acts of Israeli rights to defend itself-- I was just wondering, with the renewed UN presence along the Lebanese and Israeli border now in the north, do you think that Israelis or the Israeli polity, as well as the Lebanese polity, feel secure with this presence now maintaining the border?
Would there be reason for the Israeli polity to have, maybe, a renewed, restored, or completely new faith in the United Nations? And how do you feel about the future of border relations between the two countries?
SHIMON PERES: Well, we feel clearly there was an improvement in the situation. Israel demanded all the time that, instead of the Hezbollah being deployed the lengths of the Israeli border, that they will be replaced by the Lebanese army to do so. In their new situation now, it is the Lebanese army that deploys the border. And they are being helped by UNIFIL, which is United Nations force, with an important participation of the Europeans.
And we think that, under the circumstances, this is the best solution. Whether Hezbollah will be contained or controlled depends very much upon the Lebanese. They stand a chance. And clearly, the majority's for one Lebanon, which is a Lebanon, which is Lebanese, and Lebanon, which is not Iranian. And I hope they will win the day. I think it's the hope of many Arab countries as well.
I think it's the hope of the Western countries, and not only them. And I think the United States is trying to help the Lebanese government to regain its strengths. And Israel said that we are ready to cooperate and help in any possible way that Lebanese-- to enjoy independence and territorial integrity.
AUDIENCE: Sir, I'm a Jew. I was raised in New York City. And I think that, if we must have nations at all, that they should be places like New York, where everyone is in the minority.
And I certainly am not a believer in theocracy. And those beliefs lead me not to be a Zionist. I wonder if you could share with us why you are a Zionist.
SHIMON PERES: Well, maybe in New York, the situation is a little bit different.
You must look at Jewish life. If you'll answer me, why was there anti-Semitism? We could have been Jews, praying for Jerusalem. But all the time, throughout history, there were persecutions, killing, oppressing, denying, rejecting the Jewish people. Why?
And then a holocaust, which today-- it sounds so strange and impossible. And how else could we solve the problem? You know, it came to the height of Zionism at the Dreyfus court by the end of the 19th century. You know the story about Dreyfus?
At Dreyfus, there was an argument among the Jews. The question was the same, why are the Jews hated? Why is there anti-Semitism? And there were two answers. One was, well, the world is wrong. We have to change the world. That was basically the communist answer. And you know, among the communists, there how many Jewish leaders.
They say, we have to have a world without religions, without nations, without classes, so nobody will hate anybody else. And the right to create a [RUSSIAN], as they call it, a land without a lord, without a lord in heaven, a land without classes, a land without nations.
And there were other Jewish people who says, well, we cannot change the world. We can change our world. So we shall be an independent state. We shall be able to defend our lives, to cultivate our land, to build our own economy, and live in peace with our neighbors. And we have a place that we were born, which is Israel. And we have a language that we are speaking.
And to this very day, the only people in the Middle East that speaks the language of their ancestors is Israel. Now look what happened. Part of the Jews became communist. Part of the Jews became Zionists. Who was wrong? And who was right?
The Zionist movement was a weak movement, without armies, without power, without states, without [INAUDIBLE]. The communists built the greatest empire on earth. Look how they collapsed! Like a tower of cards. Not only that, but when they existed, they became the world's dictatorship.
What Stalin did is hard to grasp to this very day. What was their message about the nation without god and a nation without classes? You know, I think that even Ford was more important than Lenin. Lenin made, from every worker, a slave. Ford just made from every worker a consumer.
You could buy a car. So look at the history. And you know, there are, in many countries, there are still some Nazis, some extremist. Why should we hang on them? And anti-Semitism is a malady. It's very hard to explain and hard to cure.
Thanks heaven, today, it's a malady of the non-Jewish people. Jews can hardly be anti-Semitic, unless they don't have a choice. But historically-- and the reason was, probably, not only because we are different physically, because we are different philosophically. The Jews were a nonconforming nation all the way through-- against slavery, against occupation, against discrimination, at a time when people were serving wooden goddess and there was just one lord in heaven.
And to this very day, for good and for worse, the French encyclopedia describes the Jewish people as a people that didn't let the world fall asleep. We didn't let anybody else to fall asleep. Neither did we sleep. And it created a great deal of resentment.
Now, the world is made of different assemblies and different groups. Historically, I think we selected the right assembly on the right time and the right choice. That will be my answer.
AUDIENCE: Premier Peres, it's late November. And the weather outside is gorgeous. Perhaps you should visit more often and bring us good weather.
SHIMON PERES: Whatever time you invite me, I should come with new weather.
I do have a quick question for you though. I want to know what consideration is given to unintended consequences, with respect to the pursuit of Israeli policy in the Middle East. And of course, I have so many examples, but I wouldn't go into that. So I want to know what consideration is given to unintended consequences to Israeli action in the Middle East.
And secondly, talking about the future, I agree with you that the future is very important. But I was wondering, in support of a better future, would you or the Israeli government support a nuclear-free Middle East by giving up nuclear weapons and, also, joining effort to get Iran to give up their [INAUDIBLE] nuclear weapons. Thank you very much.
SHIMON PERES: Well, do we know any nation that doesn't have unintended consequences? I don't know anybody, including the United States of America. It happens. UN are not perfect. So we are not out of this line. Give me one nation, one people, that you can say they are totally historically fair and superb and perfect. It happens.
That is why we are not conforming, because we believe that we have to improve and better every human being, starting with ourselves. Well, about the nuclear option-- Israel never said that we are going to introduce nuclear weapons to the Middle East. For the time being, I admit, it's an ambivalent situation. But we found out that, if people suspect-- our enemies suspect-- that Israel has a nuclear capacity, why should we deny it? It prevents them from attacking us.
There was a Amr Moussa, who is the Secretary general of the Arab League. He used to be the foreign minister of Egypt. And we were very friendly. One day, he says, Shimon, we are such good friends. Why wouldn't you take me to Dimona and have a look what you are doing there?
I told him, Amr, are you crazy? I shall take you to Dimona. You will see, there is nothing there. You will stop to worry. you will stop to be suspicious. You'll stop to be aggressive. And then they will fire me. I don't mind that you are worried. Because what are you worried? That you can't attack us.
Now the difference between Israel and Iran is Israel never threatened anybody, to destroy, to attack-- never. And we shall never do it. The Iranians-- the problem-- there was other Muslim countries who have bombs, like Pakistan. But Musharraf doesn't threaten. Here comes a gentleman that think he's superior than anybody else. He's more than the law. He has the right to decide who will give life and who will take life.
No, the reason why Israel was forced to create this sort of nuclear option is because we are threatened with wars. If there won't be a threat of wars and destruction, the skies of the Middle East will be completely blue all of other places. You'll bring me peace. And then we shall settle the other issues.
AUDIENCE: Mr. Peres, I enjoyed very much at the end of your speech your remarks about rejecting racism and recognizing the equal humanity of all of our brothers and sisters. But I was wondering, in light of those remarks, if you really believe what you said, if you could tell us why you've recently endorsed with, in your words, no objections, the inclusion of Avigdor Lieberman into your governing coalition in Israel?-- even though Mr. Lieberman is widely regarded as a racist member of the far right who has called for the ethnic cleansing of all Arabs from Israel, who has called for the execution of his fellow members of the Knesset.
I don't understand why you're so enthusiastic about having him in your coalition if you truly reject racism.
SHIMON PERES: Well--
Lieberman joined in the government on their governmental policies. He was told that nothing of his view will be ever accepted by us. So if he wants to declare, he declares. I don't like his declarations either. But he's one minister among 26. And I don't see anybody that will support him in the government.
And by the way, like many great leaders, he changes his views from time to time.
So as long as he supports the governmental policies, let them do it. And I hope he will also come to use the proper language. By the way, he denies any racism. But even if he's not racist, I don't like the rest of his declarations. But he has the right to declare. He doesn't stand a chance to win a single issue in our government.
AUDIENCE: Well first, thank you very much for visiting Cornell today. It was truly an honor to have you speak to us. My question is, had you beaten Netanyahu in the 1995 election--
SHIMON PERES: Have--
AUDIENCE: Had you beaten Benjamin Netanyahu in the 1995 election, how do you think things would now be different? Do you think there would now be a peace between Israelis and Palestinians?
SHIMON PERES: Well, I think you jump to conclusions--
--about Netanyahu, at least. But let me say the following. After the assassination of Rabin in '95, when I replaced him, I got the real majority in the polls. I got over 20 points. And I lost the elections. Now, why?
The reason is that I replaced Rabin. I gave back to the Palestinians 460 villages, six cities. They were permitted their free elections, including in Jerusalem, which was very controversial. And all of a sudden, they started a chain of acts of violence. I described, previously, my visit to the square in Jerusalem. And people started to attack me and accuse me.
It was in Jerusalem, the next day in Tel Aviv, the next day again in Jerusalem, the next day in Ashkelon-- I knew I should lose the elections. So the Palestinians have an effect on our elections. And then I know that some of them would cry with tears. But instead of crying afterwards, would they pay attention to the ballots?-- to the ballots, not to the tears-- and prevent those change of terror-- we changed their view of our people, I would win the elections.
And that would also push the people to become more to the right and more intransigence. Because at the beginning, people were ready to support full-heartedly the policies I proposed. I hope it won't happen again. Because if there will be acts of terror, it will be very hard in a democratic country to win a majority.
DAVID J. SKORTON: We have about five minutes left. And we'll go in until we can't go any farther. But the shorter your questions, the more questions can come in. Please.
AUDIENCE: Good evening, Mr. Peres. It's an honor. My question is, in your dialogue with Kofi Annan, did he address the issue with you at all about the genocide in eastern Burma and the imprisonment of Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi who-- or Eastern Burma, as being addressed by the UN. I was wondering if you'd mentioned the conflict.
SHIMON PERES: Well, I came to Cornell before I went to see Kofi Annan. I shall see him in another couple of days. But I know that he expressed regrets about the situation in Africa and, particular, in Darfur. And that's the story, when you have a United Nations that doesn't have an army and you have to collect an army and you have to do it by consensus. It's very difficult.
But I think, it's a real failure, not only for the United Nations, but for all of us. It's a terrible massacre-- unjustified-- again, blood and cruel. I think, all of us have to mobilize like one man, to stop it, to prevent it.
DAVID J. SKORTON: Please.
AUDIENCE: Thank you for coming, by the way. I just wanted to see what your opinion was. Jimmy Carter has just recently published a book called Israel, peace, not apartheid. And he was on National Public Radio yesterday, saying how we should go back to the 1967 borders. And I just wanted to know what your opinion was on his comments-- whether he was justified in his opinion.
SHIMON PERES: We have been at the 1967 borders. And we were attacked. [INAUDIBLE] gave back, as I said, the land of Gaza. People said, land for peace. We gave back the land. We gave back all the land to Egypt, to the last centimeter of the territory. We gave back all the water to the last drop. We gave back all the oil.
And still, we have peace-- not as complete as our withdrawal. We did it with the Jordanians, as well. And now, we [INAUDIBLE] the Palestinians as well. So apparently the reasons are not the borders. There are other reasons. Iran doesn't have any problem of borders with us. And in Iraq-- why did Saddam Hussein kill the Iraqians? Why did he attack the Iranians?
I'm afraid I wouldn't agree with Jimmy Carter, who did a great job in the Camp David agreement with Egypt-- really, a brilliant job. We shall never forget it. But I would like him to remember the difficulties he has faced then and less-- it was a surprise, because the Israeli side was headed by Mr. [INAUDIBLE], that was considered an extremist and a rightist. And he gave back the whole land. And he gave back the whole water and the all oil.
So I'm a little bit surprised by this view of President Carter. But presidents are writing books. And I'm looking for the next book as well.
DAVID J. SKORTON: Please.
AUDIENCE: Good evening, Vice Premier Shimon-- Peres-- sorry. It's a two-part question. I'm very sorry. But the first one is regarding this past summer in Lebanon. Israel went in. And Israelis were in shelters for over a month. After it was over, there was a big outcry from Israelis that it was largely unsuccessful. And part of the outcry was that there was nothing gained, there was nothing accomplished.
So my question is, right now, Hezbollah-- which you don't acknowledge. But were you effective in destroying them? Because that doesn't seem so right now, considering that, according to American intelligence, they're training to go to Iraq. So it doesn't seem like Hezbollah was weakened. It doesn't seem that anything really was gained by this last summer, other than a lot of deaths-- on both sides, a lot of deaths.
And I just wanted to know what your view was on that. Also-- I'm sorry-- was--
SHIMON PERES: What exactly is--
What is the question?
AUDIENCE: The question--
The question-- well, what I was also going to say is that, the last few days, after Condoleezza Rice and Kofi Annan finally announced that you would be allowing for the cease fire, Lebanon was hit, actually, the hardest in those days. And I was wondering why you waited until a cease fire would be in effect before you started hitting Lebanon very hard?
SHIMON PERES: Israel was also hit very badly, you know. We lost life. Houses were destroyed. Forests were burned down. It wasn't such a great pleasure. And again, I think Hezbollah is a foreign body in the politics of Lebanon. Look. In the Middle East, there were two non-Muslim countries, one Christian-- Lebanon-- and one Jewish-- Israel.
The Lebanese-- the majority of the Christians lost their majority. And Lebanon is no longer a Christian country. They committed their own mistakes. And today, it's a multi-cultural country. There are Christians and Muslims and Druzes.
Now, Hezbollah wants to make it an Iranian country. They are being paid, trained, ordered by the Iranians. They're the problem of Lebanon, not us. We don't have any claim, any appetite concerning Lebanon. Again, we went back to the international border without any concessions that were given to Israel. So the problem is today, really, internally, Lebanese.
And Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, said now he has 40,000 missiles. You know what I think? He went to war, because he thought he has missiles and the missiles can destroy Israel. And he was mistaken. That's the whole story. If you ask, what was the reason that he launched a war? It was missiles. And now, he's collecting them again.
And he becomes, again, dangerous. So we hope. And we are on watch at the same time.
DAVID J. SKORTON: We're out of time. I want to thank everyone for their participation. And thank you very much for sharing your time with us.
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Israeli elder statesman and former prime minister Shimon Peres stresses the role of science, technology, and innovation in a global economy as a key to peace in the Middle East during a public lecture at Cornell's Bailey Hall.