If Shimon Peres had heard the definitive eulogy that US President Barack Obama delivered over his grave, he would have swooned. The president spent 25 precious hours, most of them in flight, after canceling all his Sept. 30 appointments to attend Peres’ funeral. As Obama stood before Peres’ coffin, he said, “In many ways, he reminded me of some other giants of the 20th century that I’ve had the honor to meet … leaders who … find no need to posture or traffic in what’s popular in the moment; people who speak with depth and knowledge, not in sound bites. They find no interest in polls or fads … [who] could be true to [their] convictions even if they cut against the grain of current opinion.” These remarks were directed at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was sitting beside him, in the front row. Peres himself could not have said it any better.
Over the last year, even Peres, the eternal optimist, began sinking into severe depression. He realized that the dream of peace, which he strived to achieve for an entire generation, was being tossed aside and buried in the dung heap of history. In a conversation with Al-Monitor, which he held in his home in Tel Aviv on Dec. 11, 2015, the elderly statesman sketched the outline of his final peace plan. Just a few minutes earlier, he placed a call to US Secretary of State John Kerry to wish him a happy birthday. Just a few days before that, Kerry had rebuked Israel in a dire speech that warned of the inherent consequences of its policies in the occupied territories.
“Kerry told me that he only said half of what he really thinks,” Peres said. “He restrained himself.” Then Peres added, “There is no government in Israel. There is only a prime minister. For the past seven years, he could have made a decision and act, but instead he preferred to do nothing. He became a hard-core Republican. He exploited the Republicans with the ridiculous support of the Democrats. America built Netanyahu up over these last seven years. It gave him confidence. It lauded and praised him. I see things differently.’’
Peres’ prediction was fulfilled in its entirety. America is much wiser now. It realizes that Netanyahu has been dragging it along with his deceptions.
Peres continued, “I don’t see in Israel anyone with the force necessary to bring about change, nor do I see any such forces in the Palestinian side either. There is no person bold enough in Israel today, nor is there anyone on the Palestinian side, even though the very fact that [Palestinian President] Mahmoud Abbas is still fighting terrorism is a miracle. I think that the [nuclear] agreement with Iran was an enormous success for Kerry. They say that Kerry isn’t very intelligent. I don’t know how to measure intelligence, but his extraordinary commitment led to this agreement. All the countries in the world support it, apart from Israel. A serious Israeli leader should have frightened the Iranians, not the Israelis. What can they possibly do to us? After all, everybody knows that we can destroy them. Netanyahu lives in fear with his demagoguery and lies. There are no wars right now in the Middle East; wars have purposes, which the fighting parties each try to achieve. What we have [in the Middle East] is terrorism, which is an attempt to sow destruction and fear.”
Now Peres comes to the first part of his big plan. “There are some 400 million Arabs in the Middle East, and close to 1.3 billion Muslims in the world. Some 60% of them are under the age of 25. It looks to me like they won’t be able to pull themselves out of their current situation on their own. There are already some 130 million young people in the Middle East with smartphones. There are 9 million students, which is not a lot. The problem is that once they finish university, they cannot find work, because there is no high tech. None of their leaders did what should be done: not President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi of Egypt, not King Salman of Saudi Arabia and not King Abdullah of Jordan.
“The solution must come from the universities, using the model that already exists in Israel. There must be greenhouses for students, high tech and entrepreneurship. There are now 13,000 startup companies in Israel that were founded by students. Some of these students are already millionaires. They go to school, become entrepreneurs, receive money from investors and return the loans once they succeed. This model should be copied by the Arab world. Israel is a high-tech nation, but high tech has no flags. It is universal. The Middle East should be blanketed with high tech. I have been busy recruiting eight gigantic corporations for this project. High tech now has $24 trillion in reserve, $6 trillion of it in the United States. The investment funds are enormous.
“I tell them, ‘Friends, start thinking about the war on terror. Otherwise, it will destroy you. And no, you don’t have to kill terrorists. You have to kill terrorism. You have to create high tech and jobs.' We need to recruit the Israeli Arab community for this, as well as high-tech leaders around the world. I had a talk with Michael Dell not too long ago. He recently merged his company with another huge company. There are hundreds of billions of dollars available now. I asked him, ‘Michael, what are you going to do with all that money?’ We agreed to meet in Davos. Trust me, we don’t need governments. They’re just a big headache with very little money. We need to recruit international corporations. I’m in talks with Cisco, Facebook, Google, everyone.”
“I tell them that there are four things, which must be brought to the Middle East: internet, broadband, the “cloud” and digital medicine. We have to present an enormous Marshall Plan for information, not money. We have to transform the universities into centers of entrepreneurship and technology. The leaders in the Middle East are making huge mistakes. Sisi is wasting billions of dollars on the Suez Canal. That is a mistake. I would not be surprised if I woke up tomorrow morning and read that Egypt or Saudi Arabia has collapsed. We have to propose this plan as quickly as possible. Anyone who wants can join.”
Peres then comes to the second stage of his plan, the political stage. “We were just speaking about John Kerry and his incredible diligence in resolving the Iranian crisis without a war, or even a cold war, and without the United Nations. He is completely dedicated to the cause. There isn’t an ounce of cynicism in him. That’s a huge thing in politics. He is genuine, and he put together an option that the whole world supported, apart from Israel. Now they are talking about imposing an agreement [on Israel and the Palestinians]. Why impose it? Netanyahu already agreed to a two-state solution with blocs of settlements remaining under Israeli sovereignty. But Abbas can’t agree to Netanyahu’s settlement blocs. The Palestinians recognize three settlement blocs, while Netanyahu has seven or eight in mind. That is why the whole issue of a freeze on settlement construction is a waste of time. The world needs to present a plan for an arrangement based on what has already been agreed upon. The plan should be passed by the General Assembly of the United Nations, and not the Security Council. It should be put on the table, without imposing anything on the parties. Anyone who wants can take part in it. It will be a kind of global statement of intent. Israel cannot function without the enlightened world, yet there are already companies that avoid Israel because of its policies. The Palestinians can’t stay behind either. They will have to join this big Marshall Plan. Accepting the arrangement will be a precondition for joining. That’s the whole idea.”
I asked Peres who will get his plan running. Who will be responsible for its implementation? “The world,” he answered. “Take Kerry, for example. He is capable. I went to see [Russian President Vladimir] Putin not too long ago. I said to him, ‘I’m 92 years old, and you’re 62. What do you want to do for the next 30 years? Conquer America?’ He told me no. ‘Do you think that America wants to conquer you?’ He answered, ‘Obviously not.’ Then I asked him if he has a hard time talking to [President Barack] Obama. ‘No,’ he said. ‘Obama is actually a nice guy.’ That’s when I told him that even though I don’t engage in espionage, I will be telling the Americans everything I talk about with him. He laughed. ‘I know,’ he said. ‘That’s why I’m talking to you.’ I like to think that it was because of this kind of mediation too that they [Americans and Russians] started to speak to one another. I think that the Russians will agree and the Chinese will agree. The Europeans will agree. [German Chancellor] Mrs. [Angela] Merkel will agree. After all, the whole world agrees with the two-state solution. It is not being imposed on anyone. It will be the consensus solution presented by the entire world, just as it happened with the Iranian issue. Instead of threats, the parties need to receive incentives. Then, anyone who agrees to sign on to and implement the program will join this immense Marshall Plan to advance information and progress.”
I asked him how he would convince Netanyahu, and how he would neutralize the pro-Israel American Israel Public Affairs Committee lobby and Netanyahu’s billionaires. “You can’t buy everything with money,” Peres told me. “Even [US billionaire Sheldon] Adelson can’t really buy the whole world. He doesn’t have $24 trillion. Netanyahu has the evangelicals in his pocket, but he lost the Democrats. Russia will agree. I am sure of that. Based on long talks that I have had, I am convinced that the Americans will, too, even though there are still some people there who believe Netanyahu’s promises. After all, Netanyahu agreed to a demilitarized Palestinian state, to three settlement blocs [remaining under Israeli control] and to a pre-agreed and just solution for the [Palestinian] refugee problem. We will resolve the problem of Jerusalem at a later date in two stages, rather than in one. Abbas will agree to that. I spoke to him about it. In the first stage, each religion will be responsible for its holy sites. The UN General Assembly will formulate and approve all the details. The agreement will be placed before it, as a kind of global statement, laying out the way forward. All the nations of the world will be partners in this agreement and act accordingly. Anyone who does not will be a pariah. I don’t think that there is anyone crazy enough here to reject this. Anyone who does reject it will remain behind. This opportunity will offer a veritable paradise, with trillions of dollars of investment in technology, science, universities and high tech. That is the future. People will not want to stay stuck in the past.’’
Nine months after this conversation, Peres suffered a stroke, which led to his death two weeks later, on Sept. 28. His final plan expressed his deep frustration with the Palestinian side, but also with the Israeli side. Nevertheless, he refused to give up. He hoped to harness his enormous love for science, technology and progress to benefit his other great passion: striving for peace. He will no longer see his vision fulfilled. It is doubtful that he left anyone behind to follow in his footsteps.