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Israeli President Shimon Peres appeals for calm with Iran (NATIONAL POST) Tristin Hopper TORONTO, CANADA 05/10/12)Source: http://news.nationalpost.com/2012/05/09/israeli-president-shimon-peres-appeals-for-calm-with-iran/ NATIONAL POST NATIONAL POST Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
Toronto — Calling an Iranian nuclear bomb “a real danger to humanity,” Israel’s President on Wednesday night nevertheless reiterated his appeal for calm in dealing with the Iranian regime.

“It is better to start with non-military efforts than to go straight to war,” Shimon Peres told journalist David Frum during a live interview in Toronto. “The fact that Iran is ready to enter negotiations shows [sanctions] are having an impact.”

The talk, conducted before a packed, flag-waving crowd at Toronto’s Sony Centre for the Performing Arts, was part of a five-day state visit to Canada by Mr. Peres. It was sponsored by the United Jewish Appeal Federation of Greater Toronto.

On the Arab Spring, which has been viewed as destabilizing for Israeli-Arab relations, Mr. Peres cheered that it is now “very uncomfortable to be a dictator in the Middle East,” but criticized the restriction of women’s rights in newly democratized Arab countries, saying it’s hindering Arab efforts to rebuild their economies.

“If they do not permit tourist ladies to wear a bikini, they will not have tourism,” he said.

“[U.S. President Barack] Obama asked me ‘who is against democracy in the Middle East?” said Mr. Peres. “I told him ‘the husbands.’”

Mr. Peres called the gap between Israel and the Palestinians “very much narrow” and noted the Palestinians had achieved “an economic peace” and that the two had gone three years without violence.

As Israeli foreign affairs minister, Mr. Peres shared the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize with then Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat for negotiating the Oslo Accords.

Within five years, however, Israeli-Palestinian relations had devolved into the Second Intifada.

“There are two things in life that you cannot achieve unless you close your eyes a bit, and that is love and peace,” he said.

When asked about divisions between Arab and Jewish Israeli citizens, Mr. Peres acknowledged that there remain vast economic and ideological rifts between the two. “[Arabs] won’t become Zionist, and I won’t ask them to become Zionist,” he said.

Mr. Peres pointed to Israeli hospitals as the one bastion where there is “total equality.”

“I don’t know why when people become healthy again, they forget how to live together,” he said.

The Israeli President’s visit came amid a surprise political upset at home. On Tuesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a late-night deal, ushered the centrist Kadima party into his own rightist coalition.

The resulting parliamentary majority — the largest in Israeli history — is widely seen as giving Mr. Netanyahu a free hand in dealing with the Iranian nuclear threat.

In the first days of his visit, Mr. Peres spoke little of politics — or the Iranian nuclear threat — instead taking a more philosophical tone.

“In the Middle East, the conflict today is a matter of generations and not of cultures,” he said before a state dinner at Rideau Hall Tuesday.

Speaking before a Canada-Israel panel earlier Wednesday, Mr. Peres expressed his support for advanced brain research, “We know what’s happening around us without knowing what’s happening within us.”

At 88, Mr. Peres is the world’s oldest head of state, although the position is largely ceremonial.

Introduced as “the personification of the Zionist dream,” Mr. Peres is among the last of a generation of Israeli pioneers.

Born in Poland, as a child Mr. Peres’ family immigrated to what was then the British mandate of Palestine. During the 1948 Israeli War of Independence, Mr. Peres was in charge of procuring arms for the nascent Israeli army.

“The first guns we got was from Canada,” he said.

In the years since, Mr. Peres has held almost every senior position within the country’s government, including three terms as prime minister.(© 2012 National Post, a division of Postmedia Network Inc. 05/10/12)

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