Former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres, a major player in the Middle East peace process, addressed the prospects for peace in the region when he accepted the GW President’s Medal last month.
The Nobel Peace Prize winner discussed the contentious situation between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization in his speech at the June 26 presentation at the Marvin Center.
“I would like to see my country as a Jewish state and the other as a Palestinian state,” he said. “The two sides have no alternative, because if we are not two states we will be one tragedy.”
The conflict between the two sides has spanned five decades, since the creation of the Israeli state after World War II. Brief periods of war and constant tension over the control of Jerusalem, considered a holy site in both the Jewish and Islamic communities, have ravaged the region.
But Peres said the nations should now re-evaluate the importance given to borders and look to the future.
“The time has come to reconsider some old assumptions,” Peres said. “The significance of borders is going through a deep change.
“If you don’t open up your country to the rest of the world, the world will be closed to you,” he said.
The former Israeli leader pointed to the trend of globalization – the result of a transforming world. He said countries will need to accept unrestricted attitudes to survive in this global age.
“History is not a repetition – it is a mutation,” he said, “Do not over-emphasize learning about the past. You must be able to learn about the future – a future that does not end with you but keeps changing and evolving.”
Peres also said the world must invest in education to “compete for innovation and make the world a better place to live.”
“The next years are the best years for peace,” he added.
Peres has been an active leader since age 20 when he entered the Israeli political scene as the secretary of the labor youth movement. He has been a member of the Knesset and Hagana Defense Force, the nation’s minister of defense, chairman of the Israeli Labor Party and served two stints as prime minister.
He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994, along with the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and current PLO President Yasser Arafat, for his work as foreign affairs minister.
His service earned him the GW President’s Medal, which is awarded to “recognize distinctive achievements of each recipient.” Journlist Walter Cronkite and former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev are among past recipients of the award.
“In the grand sweep of the twentieth century, few still journey to address destiny in a manner that is decent, brave and true,” said GW President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg.
Emily Katz, GW Hillel president, said she enjoyed Peres’ speech for its optimistic nature.
“Everyone has to be optimistic about peace, but he truly believes it,” Katz said. “He is often called a dreamer and that is great to find in a leader.”