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Shimon Peres won’t stop believing

by Ben Sales, JTA

June 20, 2013 | 10:23 am

Israeli President Shimon Peres, middle, sits next to former U.S. President Bill Clinton, left, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, during celebrations marking Peres' 90th birthday in Jerusalem on June 18. Photo by Jim Hollander/Reuters

Israeli President Shimon Peres, middle, sits next to former U.S. President Bill Clinton, left, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, during celebrations marking Peres' 90th birthday in Jerusalem on June 18. Photo by Jim Hollander/Reuters

He’s one of the oldest heads of state in the world and the star of his own two-day conference. Celebrities from Bill Clinton to Sharon Stone lavish praises on him. He walks into a room and it erupts into applause. Israel’s Presidential Conference is, in part, a tribute to Israeli President Shimon Peres’ nearly 90 years, two-thirds of which he’s spent serving the State of Israel.

But sitting on a panel with Stone, the A-list actress turned AIDS activist, Peres sounds like a politician in his prime. He’s alternately diplomatic and unapologetic, light-hearted and deeply serious, hard-headed and idealistic.

But he’s clear about two things: He’s not going away, and he still believes.

“This is the first time that right and left agree that this is the right and only solution,” Peres said about a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The moderator, political reporter Ilana Dayan, asked him whether he’ll live to see it.

“That’s my plan,” he said. “Yes.”

Peres refrained from criticizing his one-time rival, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but he was happy to put down Israeli Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, the hard rightist who said the two-state solution is “dead.”

“He may be a senior minister,” Peres said. “But he’s not a senior statesman.”

Peres acknowledged that “there’s a great deal of skepticism on both sides” and that “when you have to make peace, it is difficult.” But before pessimism set in, the 90-year-old optimist came roaring back.

“You can be young as you dream,” he said. “I don’t miss anything. The past is dead. So the only things we can miss are the things that didn’t yet happen.”

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