'In 10-15 years,' says Peres, 'Iran will be out of ayatollahs'

Peres tilts against ‘political’ calls for European Jewish exodus

At Times of Israel event, former president offers positive prognosis for Middle East, says even Iran will change

Rebecca Shimoni Stoil is the Times of Israel's Washington correspondent.

Shimon Peres in conversation with David Horovitz at The Times of Israel Gala, the Waldorf Astoria, New York, February 15, 2015 (photo credit: Perry Bindelglass / Times of Israel)
Shimon Peres in conversation with David Horovitz at The Times of Israel Gala, the Waldorf Astoria, New York, February 15, 2015 (photo credit: Perry Bindelglass / Times of Israel)

NEW YORK — Amid a spate of violent anti-Semitic attacks in Europe, former president Shimon Peres rejected Sunday the “political” calls by Israeli leaders for a mass immigration of European Jews to the country.

Addressing The Times of Israel’s Gala event here, Peres said that he “would like every Jew who wants to come to Israel to please come.”

But “I don’t want it to be a political position,” he added. “Don’t come to Israel because of a political position, but because you want to come and live in Israel. Israel must remain a land of hope and not a land of fear.

“Jews can live all over the world,” he added. “Just keep your children Jewish.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in the wake of deadly attacks against Jewish targets in France and Denmark, has called on European Jews to settle in Israel en masse.

In a conversation with Times of Israel founding editor David Horovitz, Peres offered an optimistic view of Israel’s future and that of the Middle East, despite decades of stagnation in the peace process since he and the late Yitzhak Rabin signed the Oslo Accords with the Palestinians in 1993.

“I do believe we will make peace with the whole Arab world,” Peres asserted. “I am not impressed with the experts because they didn’t see in the past; maybe they also don’t see in the present.”

Even Iran, Peres suggested, could only maintain its intransigent regime for a limited amount of time.

“The idea that Iran is forever doesn’t hold water, in my judgment,” he said, referring to the current regime in Tehran. “Iran too will change. You cannot have the ayatollahs as the eternal government.”

Among the catalysts of the Islamic Republic’s future transformation, Peres cited both pressure from the younger generation on the regime and environmental conditions.

“In 10-15 years, Iran will be out of water and thus out of ayatollahs, in my judgment,” he argued.

Peres offered support for negotiations with Iran — and multilateralism — as the best option for engagement. “I don’t think that any single country can stop Iran from having bombs. President [Barack] Obama, who I have the highest respect for, said that we have to put all the options on the table, but I suggest that we should not start with the shooting option, but with the option of sanctions and political pressure,” he said.

Peres also warned that, should the US try to act unilaterally against Iran, Russia would wait in the wings to act as a spoiler.

The Times of Israel inaugural gala, titled “Telling Israel’s Story,” marks the three-year anniversary of the launch of the online English-language newspaper, which was cofounded by Horovitz and Seth Klarman, its chairman and investor. It now also publishes in French, Arabic and Chinese.

The gala was held at the ritzy Waldorf Astoria New York hotel on Sunday night.

Peres received a lifetime achievement award at the event, along with several other Israelis and American Jewish leaders who were feted for their contributions in security, science and technology, and the arts. Award recipients included Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, Iron Dome pioneer Danny Gold, actress Gal Gadot, technology pioneer Kira Radinsky, and IsraAid disaster relief agency head Meira Aboulafia.

Some 1,200 people were in attendance at the charity event.

JTA contributed to this report.

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