As over 1,000 ticket-holders and a gathering of protestors waited outside Bailey Hall to clear security, Shimon Peres found some time to sit down with The Sun yesterday before his talk on Israel and the Middle East. Below are a few excerpts of the interview with a Nobel Peace prizewinner, a former prime minister of Israel and the current vice prime minister of Israel.
The Sun: Ma Nishma. [What’s up?]
Shimon Peres: Can you manage Hebrew a little bit?
Sun: Only if we’re counting to 10.
Peres: [laughs] Lo. [No.]
Sun: Lo. Earlier this year, Cornell divested from Sudan. Given Israel’s history as a nation formed as an outgrowth of ethnic cleansing in the Holocaust, does Israel have a responsibility to help Sudan?
Peres: There’s no way for Israel to do it, because Sudan does not recognize Israel and neither would some other countries, so Israel does not have an effective means of doing it. Israel can be of moral support, but not much else.
Sun: Israel has been criticized as having a disproportional response this summer in the war with Lebanon. How would you respond to this criticism?
Peres: Well, is it proportional to fire 4,000 rockets over the border? And the lives of civilians, everyday, 200 taken — what was proportional in that case?
Sun: What do you think the consequence of this summer’s war will be in the long run? What do you think the repercussions for Israel’s relationship with Lebanon will be as a result of the war?
Peres: The problem is not the relations between Israel and Lebanon, but what will happen to Lebanon itself. There are two forces fighting to decide the destiny of Lebanon — the Hezbollah that wants Lebanon becoming an Iranian Lebanon, and the majority of the people who like to see the Lebanese in command. So it depends who will win.
If Lebanon goes to Iran, it’s going to be a great problem. If it will regain independence and integrity and responsibility, it will be a different situation.
Sun: In 2004, Cornell scientists partnered with Stanford scientists for the groundbreaking of the Bridging the Rift Center. What do you think of this project, a life sciences facility on Israel’s Jordanian border?
Peres: I think it’s a fascinating project, but I don’t know what practical efforts are being done over there. I think they need to invest some more effort in order to make it a reality.
Sun: Does the Israeli government have plans to get involved in helping it along?
Peres: The government does not get involved with universities but the government is willing to help.
Sun: Do you see similar international education facilities opening up on Israel’s other borders?
Peres: Oh yes. I think that’s the future.
Sun: Today, the New York Times reported that the Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered Palestinians a series of incentives including negotiations and a prisoner release if they turned away from violence. What do you think will come of this?
Peres: It’s a beginning, and it carries hope.
Sun: What should Americans do to get involved in helping the situation in the Middle East?
Peres: I think the United States is involved in doing a lot. Because the United States cannot overcome the split among the Arabs and the split among the Palestinians, it’s beyond their capacity. You see Israel tried to make peace four times — twice successfully and twice we’ve failed. We’ve made peace with Egypt and Jordan; we failed with the Palestinians and the Lebanese.
And the difference is obvious: with Jordan and Egypt, you have a government, [and] you have an army. The other two parties are split and divided, and they are many armies without an army; many governments without a government. And that’s a problem not only for Israel, it’s also a problem for the United States of America. So all of us are trying to bring them together in a positive way. It may take time.