Main Error Mesage Here
More detailed message would go here to provide context for the user and how to proceed
Main Error Mesage Here
More detailed message would go here to provide context for the user and how to proceed

City Journal

Close Nav

A Conversation with Shimon Peres

eye on the news

A Conversation with Shimon Peres

Israel’s new president discusses his hopes for the future. July 25, 2007

In a colorful, nostalgic ceremony at the Knesset in Jerusalem on Sunday, July 23, Shimon Peres was sworn in as Israel’s ninth president. It was a vintage Israeli affair: As Peres took the oath of office, cell phones continued to ring throughout the great hall; his infant great-grandchildren wailed from the gallery; parliamentarians who oppose his insistence that Israel withdraw from the long-occupied territories grumbled and refused to stand or applaud. But when the sound of the shofar, Israel’s ancient trumpet, filled the hall, the nearly 1,000 cabinet officers, parliamentarians, and guests invited to the ceremony leapt to their feet to cheer the ebullient elder statesman, shouting “Long live! Long live!” After the ceremony, Peres stood at the head of a receiving line, greeting those in attendance, most by their first names.

In his speech, Peres said that his childhood dream was not to be a president, but rather a “shepherd” or “poet of the stars.” Only he could have pulled off such a line. Having been dismissed so often by skeptics as a “dreamer” and denigrated by detractors as an inveterate schemer, Peres now exudes the confidence of a man whose impossible visions for Israel have had a disconcerting way of becoming reality.

Mocked, attacked, humiliated, and repeatedly rejected by his fellow Israelis, and even by his Palestinian “partners in peace,” Peres has never accepted defeat. Though his yearning to be loved, admired, and embraced by his countrymen has embarrassed him at times and occasionally led him to overreach politically, Shimon Peres, né Shimon Persky of Vishneva, Poland, is finally positioned to speak for Israel and for the issues that preoccupy him—peace with his Arab neighbors and security for the Jewish state. His resolute optimism alone exasperates a culture in which pessimism is both instinctive and endemic.

During our 90-minute interview and subsequent lunch, Peres covered a lot of territory—peace with the Arabs, relations with American Jews, the threat posed by Iran, the roots of the Iraq conflict, and his intention to convene an annual “intellectual Davos” in Jerusalem focused on global issues. He is determined to transform what has largely been a ceremonial post into one of influence and power.

My portrait of Peres, in which I quoted from our interview, appeared in the Saturday/Sunday edition of the Wall Street Journal on July 21–22, 2007. Here are extensive excerpts from the interview itself.


Judith Miller: The post of president has traditionally been largely ceremonial, not a platform for activism. How will you be different from your predecessors?

Shimon Peres: You know, most politicians like to be supported, to be popular with their people rather than doing the right thing. After 60 years of politics, I lost a great deal of my taste for it. I discovered that my real goal is to inspire. Running an administration is a little bit of a waste of time as far as I’m concerned.

My mentor, Ben Gurion, told me once that when fellow members of the Jewish Agency were complaining that he was concentrating too much authority in his own hands, he told them: “Look, I have a suggestion about the division of labor. You be responsible for everything that exists; I’ll be responsible for everything we need.” A president can be responsible for the things we need. Now I’m free, to speak my mind, to dream. Who says this is unimportant? Maybe it’s more important than managing. I’m free to talk about my dreams, about the future.

The Jewish people have added to philosophy one great idea: that is to be dissatisfied. Jews were never satisfied, neither personally nor collectively. And they were right. When you’re satisfied, you become a bore. And you spend your life with the same problems. When you’re dissatisfied you’re all the time in revolt.

JM: So you want to create permanent revolts?

SP: I want to be part of the revolt. There’s a new biography of Einstein, by Walter Isaacson. And Einstein said that his part of life was impudence, “chutzpah.” I think that was the greatest thing about him—the impudence. Not to accept forms.

I’ve had my portion of management jobs over the years. I’ve been the most criticized person in this country. After 60 years, wanting to be president is something not normal. But personally, I want to serve my people by introducing change, by instilling hope and optimism, which are rare commodities these days.

JM: What are now the greatest threats to Israel?

SP: I want to start with the greatest opportunity, and then I’ll go to the threats. In my eyes, the present world is very Jewish, in that it’s very global. I went to the United States for the first time 50 years ago. When I went there, I thought the most insolvable problem was the relations between white and black. Fifty years later, who decides what Americans read? A black lady named Oprah. Who is number three in the administration? Condoleezza Rice. So what is black? White? Yellow? The greatest call of Jewish life—for equality—is the belief that we were all created in the image of the Lord.

The global economy, of which we are a part, doesn’t have power. It doesn’t make laws; it doesn’t have police. It doesn’t have armies. So what is its strength? Good will. You can’t imagine a global company without it. And then again, it’s global and individual at the same time. Compare Bill Gates with Henry Ford. What can you say against Bill Gates? Or against the two young guys who created Google?

Take the economy in Israel. It’s been revolutionized by a group of 15,000–20,000 individuals. It’s the individual capacity to create, to invent, to organize, to sell. So in my eyes, it’s a Jewish age. Because it’s a global age.

You know the Russian foreign minister was here. And he told me a Russian joke. A young Russian boy asked his father if it is true that Jesus Christ was Jewish. And the father said, in that age, everybody was Jewish.

In our age, everybody is Jewish.

As for the dangers: there are two.

One is terror. And the other is the warming of the earth. Both of them are real, serious, immediate, and important, to all of us.

The greatest danger is nuclear devices falling in the hands of terrorists. This would make the world ungovernable, not only Israel. So the dangers are not limited to Israel. They’re a world problem.

I try to look at it through objective eyes, and say why are they terrorizing? Many Muslims feel that modernity may endanger their traditions. They want to kill everything and everybody that is modern. But they have a problem. And that is how to sustain themselves. They cannot dream of agriculture, cultural endowments. If they continue to discriminate against women, they will not make it.

In my view, the greatest revolution in the twentieth century has been the liberation of women. Why? Because when women are discriminated against, they produce their children by the age of 26. It’s an exhaustive undertaking, and without education they can no longer manage the children nor educate them. So the children are victims of the past, of backwardness. Modern women start late and produce fewer children. They are the ambassadors of the future.

So it’s just a matter of time. Who will win first? Who will lose first? Will the nuclear bomb arrive in the hands of the terrorists, or will the Muslim world enter the new age? It cannot live in the old age. Protest is not sustainable.

JM: What’s your prediction?

SP: My prediction is that finally the world will unite against them. Because there is no leader whom I’ve spoken with who does not understand the danger. But there’s a competition of time.

The second threat is the environment. In our cosmos, there are two great balls, the sun and the earth. The sun is warm; the earth cool. We’re overusing the cooling part of our cosmos. The refrigerator of the world is in danger. So is our food. So are our lives. We invested so much in the productivity of people and natural resources that we have to change.

What is my dream? That Israel will become a world center, not the only one, in fighting terror and other dangers. We’ve been trained on the job. We don’t have a choice, and we have good people who can contribute a great deal to what you call homeland security—by ideology, devices, arms, and tactics. And the second is to make Israel a healthy country. We’re going to build a fleet of cars without engines. We’re going to depend more and more on solar energy. Our energy will come increasingly from the sun. Better to depend on the sun than the Saudis. The sun is more permanent, more democratic, more friendly.

And then Israel, too, must enter the world. We must understand that a modern economy is based on cooperation, and we must depend on the economy as a means of making peace. We place too much emphasis on both diplomacy and military action, and not enough on building the economic ties that would lead to productive diplomacy. Diplomacy is about borders, and economy is about relations. When relations are poor, you can hardly mark the borders. So maybe we ought to start with improving relations, which means the economy. In parallel, we can deal with borders.

So now you see my dream. And what I can offer is ideas. I’m not going to mobilize armies.

JM: Let me go back to Iran, which your country considers a clear and present danger. What is the “red line” for Israel in terms of Iran’s nuclear option?

SP: Whatever the red line is, it cannot be drawn by Israel. It would be the greatest mistake for Israel to draw that line. The red line must be international.

JM: But does an Iranian nuclear option not threaten Israel more than the rest of the world?

SP: The greatness of Ahmadinejad stems from the divisions in the world. If there were a united front vis a vis Iran, Iran would not be dangerous. But the divisions make Iran feel that it can run wild and do whatever it wants. When Islamic fundamentalism came to power in 1979, Iran had 30 million people; today it has 70 million. But the regime cannot feed them. There is corruption, and drugs, and dissatisfaction, and the Persians are barely 50 percent of the population. So, the perception is that Iran is strong, but the inside is weak and divided.

On four occasions the nuclear danger was terminated without using force. It started in the Ukraine. Then Libya. It was negotiated and phased out quietly and successfully. Third was South Africa, where a combination of economic sanctions and political pressure stopped it, and then North Korea. I wouldn’t have believed that for $25 million they negotiated away their bomb.

Now comes Iran. There are some good developments. In Europe, there is Sarkozy [France], and Angela Merkel in Germany, and Gordon Brown [Britain]. It’s a different Europe now.

One problem is the separation between Europe and America, and between Russia and America. But all of this is reparable. The closer the danger comes, the greater the union will be.

JM: So you don’t see a need for force?

SP: I don’t see a must for force. The Iranians should be worried about it. I don’t want to tranquilize them. But I think it can be handled economically and politically.

JM: You really think the Persians can be talked out of a project begun under the Shah?

SP: I don’t know. But I think they can be forestalled by economic means and political means. More than they are Muslims, they are [pro-] nuclear. They’ve almost forgotten the Lord in Heaven. The nuclear bomb is becoming the unifier, the golden calf of the Muslim world.

JM: But isn’t that partly justified by Israel’s unarticulated, unacknowledged, open secret—your nuclear capability? Isn’t your “great achievement”—what you did for your country—the justification for their quest for nuclear weapons?

SP: No. Pakistan did it before us. And India. For every country it’s become a matter of prestige. And I think that [the Israeli nuclear program at] Dimona helped us achieve peace with Egypt. Sadat said it very openly to Yigal Yadin, who was deputy prime minister at the time. And it saved us from many other catastrophes. Don’t forget that the Dimona option started over 50 years ago. And in those 50 years, it has served a purpose until today. Even today, I don’t know what they think we have, or don’t have. But apparently, they won’t take it easily. Israel is the only country that is being threatened with being destroyed. Israel doesn’t threaten any other country. And whenever it is said that we have nuclear bombs, we say that Israel shall not be the first to introduce nuclear bombs in the Middle East. And it was accepted by most people, because it was felt that [Iran] is the only country on earth whose official leadership says we want to wipe you out. How can one dare say anything about it? We’ve never tested anything. But we thought that enough suspicion is a good deterrent.

Once upon a time, [former foreign minister of Egypt] Amr Mousa said, “Shimon, we are friends. Take me to Dimona. Let me have a look at what’s going on there.” I said: “Don’t be foolish. I will take you to Dimona and you will see that there is nothing. You’ll stop worrying. It’s not my job to make you stop worrying.”

JM: But would you be content with Iran’s taking the same position? Saying, “We won’t be the first in the Middle East to introduce nuclear weapons”?

SP: But that’s the problem with Iran. They don’t look upon themselves as a nation, as a people, but as an international force, and a theocratic one. They say they’re fighting the Crusaders. But among the Crusaders there wasn’t a single American or Jew. But it doesn’t matter; they fight us.

If they change their philosophy, if Iran will stop being what it is today, it will be a different situation.

JM: You could imagine living with a nuclearized Iran if it wasn’t led by radical mullahs? By the Ahmadinejads of the world?

SP: We learned to live with Pakistan. We didn’t say a word.

JM: So the problem is the regime?

SP: The regime, its ambition, its philosophy. It all goes together. My first lesson in philosophy, the teacher gave an example. A fanatical, nuclear Iran is one thing. It’s separate. If it will not be that, it would be a different thing altogether.

JM: But isn’t it time for Israel to change its attitude towards its own nuclear capability? Iran speaks openly about its quest for a nuclear option, though it says it is not seeking a bomb.

SP: If there weren’t wars and threats, there would be no reason for it. The skies of the Middle East would be blue. But they are not blue. They are grey and dark. And I don’t want to create the impression that in spite of everything . . . it will be naive. And I don’t think Israel will step further.

JM: What does that mean? Does it mean you won’t test a weapon?

SP: I won’t specify, but however you want to interpret that, yes. We stick to our position. When I first said that Israel would not be the first to introduce a nuclear bomb, I was highly criticized. And two weeks later, it became the official policy of the country.

But if there were peace, there would be no need for it. And the whole region could use their reactors for electricity, for power.

JM: So you see a role for nuclear power in a peaceful Middle East, despite the proliferation risks?

SP: Oh, yes. But it must be controlled. Rules respected.

JM: But isn’t this again a question of timing? Will this Iranian regime fall before its centrifuges are able to create enough enriched uranium for a weapon?

SP: I can’t give you a calendar. But I think we have several years. And I hope the world by then will formulate a common policy. We’ve started already in the United Nations. It’s started slowly. But they must be stronger, bolder.

JM: But the Russians don’t seem very helpful.

SP: Putin understands it. I had a long talk with him about it, a month and a half ago. We met in Kazakhstan at a conference. Russia has its own problems. They have Chechnya, and a Muslim majority. And Russia is losing population.

JM: But if Putin senses the danger, why has he done so little?

SP: It has to do with the relations between Russia and America. Maybe the Russians feel that the Americans don’t appreciate its history, its tradition of Greater Russia. And Russia has its own problems: controlling the largest piece of land, and they don’t have enough people. Life expectancy is dropping, and things are tough for the pensioners. A lot of problems.

JM: Turning to another problematic neighbor: Syria. Can Israel make peace with President Bashar Assad?

SP: What sort of a Bashar Assad is he? Look at what he’s doing today. He’s encouraging Hezbollah, which is endangering the integrity of Lebanon. The United States supports a united Lebanon. You cannot support a united Lebanon and a divided Lebanon. Syria must understand that the United States will not sacrifice [President] Seniora, and a united Lebanon, for the sake of Assad. And we shall not tell the Americans you are wrong and Hezbollah is right. It’s nonsense. And for the time being, they don’t want to negotiate directly with Israel.

We have a good opportunity to make peace with the Palestinians. And just as it’s so difficult to fight on two fronts, it’s difficult to make peace on two fronts.

JM: So Palestinians first?

SP: Palestinians are operational. We’re in the midst of that process and must complete it.

JM: Which brings us to the Oslo peace accords of 1993. You’re the father of Oslo, which many in your country and mine now see as a dismal failure. Do you see it that way?

SP: No.

JM: Well, with whom do you intend to make peace? And who now can legitimately speak for all the Palestinians, given Hamas’s seizure of Gaza?

SP: Judy, you should know. You covered the grandfather of this . . . the Jordanian option. The agreement with [King] Hussein was the best and greatest agreement Israel ever had. Even the rightists agree. Alas, we torpedoed it. It was the greatest mistake in our history.

Now let’s return to Oslo. You could say, no partner? Fine. We’ll take it upon ourselves. The Palestinians, the territories: we shall beat them; we shall manage them. We couldn’t do it. So we’ve had to look for a partner. The only partner could be the Palestinians. Among the Palestinians, we had to make a choice—the PLO or Hamas. So these critics are talking nonsense. They forced us to do it. They forced us to Oslo. And thank heaven, Oslo made the better part of the PLO pro-peace; plus, it relieved us from running the lives of the people in the territories.

Now, we cannot return to the London agreement [the 1987 agreement secretly negotiated between Peres and King Hussein of Jordan, in which they agreed that Israel and a joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation—without the PLO—would hold direct talks under the umbrella of an international peace conference] because the Jordanians were disappointed; the Palestinians were disappointed. We can’t do it politically or economically. So let’s make a troika, an economic troika. Economics is about relations. Politics is about borders. We have to start with the relations. And here I worked out a plan, which is called the “Valley of Peace,” beginning at the Red Sea and winding up at the Syrian border. And all the three agree. And if there will be a new economy, there will be a new situation, including work for people of the West Bank. And by the way, we cannot postpone this because nature is impatient. We have to solve the problem of the Dead Sea. It may become a catastrophe. So it’s all of this combined. It’s a new world.

As for Gaza, what do they want? We left Gaza completely. They wanted to shoot and the world to pay. It doesn’t function. No way. If you’re shooting, you’re not financing. And if you’re terrorizing, we cannot recover. So I say to the gentlemen in Gaza: Run your own business. We shall not disturb you. But you cannot invest everything in rockets. You have to feed your children. You cannot offer them rockets for breakfast. If you shoot, we shall reply. If you want to be an arm of Iran, OK. Be an arm of Iran.

There are 7 or 8 million Palestinians: A million and a half in Gaza; 2.5 million in the West Bank; 3 million former Palestinians in Jordan, and 1.2 million former Palestinians in Israel. It’s quite a group. Should they be handled politically as fanatics? Or economically as neighbors? I think they can be handled economically.

When it comes to politics, people ask me, why did I join [former Prime Minister Ariel] Arik Sharon? And I say, perhaps a bit immodestly, because he joined me in my positions. With Arik, for the first time, we had a clear majority for a Palestinian state. The great debate is over. So while developing economic ties, we have to negotiate with the Palestinians. When we have in our hands the readiness [consensus] on the [need for] withdrawal from the territories, and . . . to trade land for land, and we promise that the land will enjoy contiguity—that it won’t be cut in pieces—it’s a great opportunity.

Let the Gazans do whatever they want. I don’t suggest that we go to Las Vegas for a divorce, or go to the rabbinate for a marriage. Let them do whatever they want.

JM: So you think you can proceed on just the West Bank track, without the Gazans?

SP: [Mahmoud] Abbas says I can’t work with them. It’s his decision. I don’t think Israel should add conditions. We shouldn’t stop delivering water or electricity of other necessities to them. But if Hamas fires at us, they should not expect thank you notes.

JM: So, continue providing Gaza with the necessities, but with a clear message: Don’t act against us militarily?

SP: Yes. If you terrorize, we will respond. We will strike back. And we will negotiate with the West Bank Palestinian Authority wherever they are.

JM: Do you think Israel is better off since the 1993 Oslo Accords with Yasser Arafat?

SP: If we had gone with the London Agreement, it would have been a superb situation. But [former Prime Minister Yitzhak] Shamir said no, because he opposed an international conference. But he wound up attending one anyway!

We would be much worse off if we took it upon ourselves to run their lives, without any international help, without any self-management. So we may not be better off, but we certainly could have been worse off.

JM: Is a new “Jordanian option” possible now that the Palestinians are split between Hamas and the PLO?

SP: Well, we must be sensitive to the Jordanians and the Palestinians. Today they say, at least publicly, that they don’t want a political confederation. I think that the king wants to see a Palestinian state first.

JM: Do you think he has a different private view?

SP: Look, everybody has his private views. And I don’t want to spell them out. He’ll talk about them when he wants to.

JM: But do you think there is nothing you can do about, or with, Hamas right now?

SP: It’s like the Iranians. They have a religious concept. They don’t want peace. I wonder if they want a Palestinian state. They want Muslim hegemony. It’s not that we don’t want to talk. They don’t want to. They will face more and more problems. Who will pay for their mistakes? What can we do?

JM: What about the Saudis? Do you see any possibility of progress with them?

SP: They are also worried. They’re not happy about Lebanon, about Iraq. They too have their own fears, headaches.

JM: But not enough to join forces, even privately, with Israel?

SP: The source of the trouble is oil prices. We must find alternative sources of energy. And everything will return to its true size and not be inflated.

JM: At home, is Prime Minister Olmert going to survive, given the investigations of the Independent Commission on Lebanon and the corruption inquiries?

SP: I wouldn’t exclude it. Many of the charges of corruption that have been made about others have proven untrue. There’s a tendency to exaggerate these things. Fourteen mayors were accused of corruption, and none of them are now being investigated. Twelve out of 14 were eventually exonerated!

I think Olmert shows stamina. And as president, I support stability, and ensuring that the government will function. I’m not in the opposition. The opposition should be respected, but the president doesn’t have to compound it.

JM: But what about the grave mistakes of the Lebanon war last summer?

SP: These are now under investigation. There’s a contradiction with the result of the war, which is not bad at all, and the conduct of the war, which is being criticized. For the first time, the frontier is quiet. And most of the people who conducted the war have been changed. The minister of defense lost the elections in his party, for instance.

JM: Let’s talk about relations between Israel and the diaspora. Are there now too many Jewish organizations with too few clearly defined missions? And have American Jews come to expect too much influence, come to exert too much power, in exchange for the money they donate to Israel?

SP: I don’t think so. Organizations are competitive and have their own raison d’etre. But I want to look for ways to unify them.

JM: How, precisely?

SP: I want to create an intellectual common vision, a common denominator. We have to enrich Jewish intellectual relations. We have fewer Jews in the world, but more who are educated. And Jews must be encouraged to be smarter and more moral.

I’m not going to fight Jewish organizations again. It’s a waste of energy. But I do hope to bring most of them under this intellectual umbrella.

Israel has been focused on technology. Young Jews, too, have been concentrating on high tech, on the environment. So I want to see if we can come together around our traditional heritage and a moral call reflecting dissatisfaction with the status quo.

I want to bring the world to Israel, and Israel to the world. So that the news from Israel will not be about the Intifada, but about breakthroughs in solar energy, and fighting terror.

JM: You want to establish a kind of “intellectual Davos”?

SP: Yes, something like that. Wisdom doesn’t age. The 10 Commandments contain only 169 words. But they remain the most basic document of moral civilization. So I want to see an Israel that is as old as the 10 Commandments, and as new as the iPhone.

And I want to convene an annual convention of brains, of entrepreneurs, that will not be limited to Jewish problems. I would hope that all organizations would like to come.

JM: Let’s talk about Iraq. In the U.S., the now semi-official history of this conflict is that this war was brought about by a small group of neoconservatives, read “Jewish” conservatives—Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, Doug Feith—and encouraged by Israel. Is that accurate?

SP: I think it was brought about by Saddam Hussein, not by us, and not by neoconservatives. It began with Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait. When they were pushed back by the U.S., they undertook some obligations to the United Nations, which they did not respect. I think President Bush has shown courage. He has acted boldly and courageously. After Hitler and Stalin, Saddam Hussein was the most dangerous killer of our time.

JM: Was he more dangerous than say, President Ahmadinejad, who is openly pursuing a nuclear option, whereas Iraq, which was believed to be pursuing them, was not?

SP: Yes, because Ahmadinejad is threatening, but he hasn’t invaded anybody yet. This man, Saddam, would have invaded Saudi Arabia as well as Kuwait.

The United States may have made some mistakes. But without the United States, the whole world would risk greater mistakes. There is no country that can replace the United States. And let’s be fair about the U.S. It has participated in many wars. In World War II, you lost many lives, American youngsters. But America didn’t keep things for herself. She gave back Japan to the Japanese, Germany to the Germans. She gave the Marshall Plan to Europe. She’s helping Africa today.

And remember this about mistakes. The achievements of yesterday may be the mistakes of today. To stop Saddam Hussein was a great achievement. Today it’s double-sided. It’s very hard to end.

JM: So what would you advise George W. Bush to do about it? Withdraw now? Continue the surge?

SP: I’m not going to advise. My advice is not necessary. Finally, the Republicans and Democrats must negotiate and reach a solution. How long that will take, I don’t know. George W. Bush doesn’t want to be there forever. The issue is timing. The majority of Democrats say: leave now. The elections make people less patient.

JM: Do you believe that the United States is likely to have another 9/11? How do you think we can prevent, in our country and in yours, another attack like that one?

SP: By building a world coalition. And you can achieve that only through good will. Terrorism today, like the world, is global. The number one task is to create an anti-terror world coalition to stop it. Fighting terror is like fighting crime: You need an Interpol. Number two, you need new technologies and new strategies and tactics for fighting terror. It’s absurd to send F-16s to fight terror.

There are new technologies, nanotechnologies in particular, better optics. We’re using the weapons of previous wars to confront new dangers. And let’s divide the world clearly: between those who support terror and those who oppose it. Here there must be no room for compromise. Those who support or commit terror should be boycotted.

JM: Back to Israeli politics: You say you now represent all Israelis. Do you represent the settlers who say that you and your ideas are dangerous to Israel?

SP: Not necessarily. But I invited some of them here today to my inauguration. When I was defense minister and prime minister, my wife used to invite them in for coffee! There is no nation where there is 100 percent agreement on issues. I shall respect everyone 100 percent, but I can’t be 100 percent in agreement with them.

JM: I want to ask a couple of questions about you. You’ll be 91 if you get two terms as president. Are you too old for this job? Do you have the energy, the stamina, to implement what is a very ambitious agenda?

SP: Look, the stamina, yes. The conviction, yes. The rest is physical, which is not under my control. But I’m very strong. I was 12 pounds when born. I nearly killed my mother. And I never had any vaccinations! I promise you one thing: The people must be assured. I will die, one day. I promise.

JM: Finally, this country has had huge psychological trauma lately—Lebanon, two previous presidents who left in corruption or in disgrace. What can you do to assure Israelis that your term will not also end this way?

SP: By providing an example of restraint, of modesty, and respect for others. The best way to teach is by example. You know, in all those six years when I was attacked so much, no one ever said I was corrupt.

JM: Is something happening to Israel? The mood in many ways seems so pessimistic.

SP: I wouldn’t compare it to the days of McCarthy in your country. There are too many differences. But there are moods in a nation.

JM: But do Israelis still think of themselves as a moral country? As it sits on occupied land, and fights so many corruption charges at home?

SP: We’ve made our mistakes, yes. We’ve been put in impossible dilemmas and situations, yes. But what makes a country democratic is not whether you have corruption. What makes it democratic is the determination to fight corruption. And I believe that we have that spirit. We still have that spirit.

Up Next
from the magazine

On the Front Line in the War on Terrorism

Cops in New York and Los Angeles offer America two models for preventing another 9/11. Judith Miller Public safety, Cities, New York


Send a question or comment using the form below. This message may be routed through support staff.