Shimon Peres
The Guardian (Opinion)
April 1, 2011 - 12:00am

The Middle East has to make a historic choice: to join the new global age of democratic peace and liberal economy, or to stay clinging to its history of closed societies and autocracy.

A great revolt has been initiated by young people and women, to gain freedom, bread and hope. Israel is watching with great expectation. These events are both unprecedented and unplanned.

The internet, Facebook and Twitter have created mass communications and social spaces that regimes cannot control. These developments allowed young people to compare notes with their contemporaries in other countries, and to see clearly how their own governments wasted wealth and time to enhance their own power while ignoring the needs of their people. It opened their eyes.

The upheaval we see today in our region is driven by a clash of generations rather than a clash of civilisations. The older generation had greater respect for land than science. But we live in an age when science, more than soil, has become the provider of growth and abundance. Living just on the land creates loneliness in an age of globality.

Israel is an example of that today: technology and not territory are the drivers of wealth. We have shown that with a small piece of land, little water and no oil, it is possible to create a thriving economy and a sustainable democracy.

Israel welcomes the wind of change, and sees a window of opportunity. Democratic and science-based economies by nature desire peace. Israel does not want to be an island of affluence in an ocean of poverty. Improvements in our neighbours' lives mean improvements to the neighbourhood in which we live.

Israelis understand that this is no less true of the Palestinians. That is why successive Israeli governments have given their full support to the efforts of Palestinians in the West Bank to build their own economy, their own institutions, and their own security forces. Economic growth in the West Bank is now close to 10% annually. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians see the tangible fruit of this co-operation. Knowledge, freedom and peace are inseparable.

Peace is needed and can be achieved by direct negotiations. This was the case with Egypt and Jordan, and can happen with the Palestinians. The gap between ourselves and the Palestinians is more psychological than material.

Bringing an end to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians may help the young Arab generation to realise their aspirations. Israel is more than willing to offer our experience in building a modern economy in spite of limited resources to the whole region. We seek only the acceptance from our neighbours and the opportunity to play a full role in the life of the region.

Israel was born under the British mandate. We learned from the British what democracy means, and how it behaves in a time of danger, war and terror. We thank Britain for introducing freedom and respect of human rights both in normal and demanding circumstances. It was a great lesson and a necessary one for a country such as Israel, which has been attacked seven times in the 63 years of its existence without compromising democracy and without giving up our quest for peace.

However, there are other forces in our region that want to resist the spread of these values. They are ready to abuse democratic institutions to gain power, but without the commitment to maintain the integrity of those institutions once they are in power. Hamas and Hezbollah, backed by Iran, are representatives of these forces.

Those reactionary forces, that would hijack their countries back down the path of radicalism, are also the enemies of peace with Israel. That is why we hope our neighbours will choose to join the family of democratic nations.


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