President of the State of Israel, Shimon Peres, gave a thought-provoking and thoughtful speech, urging urgent progress for peace, “If a galloping horse is going past your home, jump onto it.” He also commented pretty optimistically on the “Arab Spring”. Rather memorable little quote at the end of the Q&A session, when he was expressing scepticism about public opinion, “It’s like a perfume: nice to smell, dangerous to swallow”.
His comments should be widely reported elsewhere. I asked him a question about how Israel engages with its own Arab population, who make up 20% of the Israel’s population yet account for only 8% of GDP. In January , the UK Task Force ( http://www.uktaskforce.org) visited Nazareth and other areas. Peres in his speech emphasised science and technology as a way to break through poverty. How is Israel engaging with its own Arab business sector?
In his answer to my question, Peres stressed the value of education. Peres said that Arabs citizens do not face discrimination in law, but “do in fact”. “Arabs live on land but we live on science”. Jewish villages and towns have access to industry. So high tech is being introduced in Arab villages. 60 000 of the 2 million strong Arab population have a high level of education- many are doctors. In a hospital you can’t tell the difference between a Jew and an Arab, he said. A Jew or an Arab can take a knife and open up the stomach. Peres added, “Why can’t we have the peace we get in a hospital outside?”
Many of the educated Arabs are women. Peres made the link between women, youth and the wider regional protests.
Audio of the speech and Q&A on www.chathamhouse.org.uk
My question is 41 minutes in after his answer on “carrots and sticks”.