Thursday, March 21, 2013

Two Presidents

Tonight, two presidents are sharing dinner in Jerusalem. One, Shimon Peres, is among the last of his breed: the founders of his nation, the lions of Labor Zionism who wrested the Jewish homeland back from the hostile grasp of nature, Arab armies, and a criminally negligent god. The other: Barack Obama, the herald and voice of a new generation, a man who broke the hold of corrupt old white men on the highest office of the greatest nation the world has ever seen. Two presidents, two men who in age, appearance, and biography could hardly be more different, and yet who share an inspiring vision of the Middle East only they seem able to clearly articulate.

Peres spent much of the 90s articulating his vision of a "New Middle East", one in which Israelis and Arabs would form an economic alliance, creating regional prosperity and hope and engagement for the people living there. Such a partnership could only be realized, of course, in the context of a multilateral agreement bringing peace to Israel and its neighbors. After the failure of Oslo, Peres was roundly derided for this ideal, as though the evil and cynical manipulation of the process by Arafat and his terrorist cohort was somehow enabled by those who had invested their hopes in it. And yet now, as President—a largely ceremonial post—Peres enjoys a degree of popularity that evaded him in his decades in politics.

In a speech today aimed at the Israeli public—one which could hardly have been delivered to the cynical dogmatists of the Knesset—President Obama's message recalled his dinner host's New Middle East vision.

So if people want to see the future of the world economy, they should look at Tel Aviv, home to hundreds of start-ups and research centers. Israelis are so active on social media that every day seemed to bring a different Facebook campaign about where I should give this speech.
That innovation is just as important to the relationship between the United States and Israel as our security cooperation. Our first free trade agreement in the world was reached with Israel, nearly three decades ago. Today the trade between our two countries is at $40 billion every year. More importantly, that partnership is creating new products and medical treatments; it’s pushing new frontiers of science and exploration.That’s the kind of relationship that Israel should have -- and could have -- with every country in the world. Already we see how that innovation could reshape this region. There’s a program here in Jerusalem that brings together young Israelis and Palestinians to learn vital skills in technology and business. An Israeli and Palestinian have started a venture capital fund to finance Palestinian startups. Over 100 high-tech companies have found a home on the West Bank, which speaks to the talent and entrepreneurial spirit of the Palestinian people.
 You know, one of the great ironies of what’s happening in the broader region is that so much of what people are yearning for -- education, entrepreneurship, the ability to start a business without paying a bribe, the ability to connect to the global economy -- those are things that can be found here, in Israel. This should be a hub for thriving regional trade and an engine for opportunity. Israel’s already a center for innovation that helps power the global economy. And I believe that all of that potential for prosperity can be enhanced with greater security, enhanced with lasting peace.
Thanks to Shimon Peres, this is a message that is already familiar to Israelis, and resonates strongly for those with the imagination to share it. There is a long row to hoe before it can become reality, and some obstacles seem insurmountable. The Palestinians continue to deny history, to educate their children to hate Jews, and to embrace violence as a channel for their frustration. But as these two great leaders persist in reminding us: we cannot allow our anger over the past, however justified, to destroy our future.


  1. The definition of insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again, trying to get different results.

    1. Perhaps, but there's hardly a reasonable alternative to reaching a peace agreement with the Palestinians.

    2. It is, by definition, unreasonable (insane is the way I put it above) to think or even hope it is possible to achieve that peace. I would love to see it as much as anybody. Unfortunately, it's just unrealistic for reasons that wouldn't fit here on this blog (but I'm sure you're familiar enough with the situation to know of what I speak).