Nov. 29, 2006

On visit to Cornell, Israeli elder statesman Peres sees technology at work and points to it as a key to peace

Israeli elder statesman and former prime minister Shimon Peres stressed the role of science, technology and innovation in a global economy as a key to peace in the Middle East in a public lecture in Bailey Hall on Nov. 28. "Science doesn't know nationalities," he commented at a press conference before his speech.

While at Cornell, Peres met with President David Skorton and student leaders. He also toured nanotechnology facilities in Duffield Hall, and during his talk he praised Cornell for its vision of the future. "You belong to the future, and you are going to participate in it," he said.

Skorton introduced Peres, who is currently Israel's vice prime minister and who served as prime minister from 1984 to 1986 and 1995-96, as a key figure throughout Israel's conflict-ridden history. Peres' role in the Oslo Accords earned him the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize, which he shared with Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

"He's the last of Israel's founders still in public service, and he has held every position of note in Israel's government," Skorton said.

Throughout his talk and at the press conference, Peres commented on the changing face of conflict in an era when human progress, ideology and commerce know no borders.

"Fighting terrorism is like fighting crime," he said at the press conference. "Before, wars were fought over territories. Territory has lost its importance since science and technology took over."

During the lecture, he said, "It's a bitter fight; it's costly -- to them, to us. Our enemies attempt to achieve by violence what can easily be achieved by peace. The problem is being ready to pay the cost of peace."

Regarding the recent conflict between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon, he said, "It's not a clash among cultures; it's a clash among generations. Modernity is a danger to their way of life. We don't have any claim on Lebanon, for its land or its politics. We want a peaceful Lebanon."

Peres pointed to a united Europe and the growth of China and India as economic powers as positive signs of an evolving global economy.

"Since the second World War, the driving force in history is more economy than strategy," he said. "You can build empires without force -- take a look at Bill Gates, at the Google example. They really did it by negotiating with the potential of the future, successfully."

Peres also related Cornell to this vision of change in world affairs.

"The United Nations belongs more to the past than the future, and Cornell belongs more to the future than the past," he said. "Today, I'm not sure the players are nations -- they have lost their nationship. Today the greatest organizations are firms, serving an international economy. ... Your university is really a multi-language/multicultural university, and your outlook is really very good."

As minister for the development of the Negev and Galilee regions of Israel, Peres has a keen interest in technology, water conservation and energy issues. He discussed nanotechnology briefly over lunch with Skorton, and then, during his tour of Duffield Hall, Peres learned firsthand of recent research at Cornell from Donald Tennant, director of operations at the Cornell NanoScale Facility, W. Kent Fuchs, dean of the College of Engineering, and from applied and engineering physics professors.

Professor Harold Craighead told Peres of new techniques for DNA sequencing and applications for electrospun polymer microfibers and mentioned ongoing collaborations between Cornell and Tel Aviv University. Tennant talked about a "stunt" exercise in making the world's smallest tennis racket and about applications for sensing devices, including disease control and use "on the battlefield -- seeing dust particles down to a single molecule."

Peres questioned his guides throughout the tour -- about medical applications, powering nanodevices and the scanning electron microscope, on which he was shown images of single atoms of strontium and titanium on a slice of semiconductor material magnified up to 29 million times.

"If this wafer is the United States, one chip on it is a car parked somewhere ... and one atom is a pin somewhere in a car," said David Muller, associate professor of applied and engineering physics.

Peres, obviously impressed, called the demonstration "fascinating" as he exited the heavily sound- and vibration-proofed laboratory.

Peres was guarded by a U.S. State Department security detail, including a SWAT team, during his visit, which was sponsored by Caravan for Democracy through trustee Andrew Tisch '71, and by such campus organizations as Cornell Hillel and the Cornell-Israel Public Affairs Committee.

Outside Bailey Hall before Peres' talk began, a small group of protesters waved Palestinian flags and signs, rallying for justice in Palestine and protesting Israel's nuclear program and military activities.

Peres' talk in Bailey Hall was broadcast live on CUTV and Cornell's home page, on Time Warner Cable and local radio stations. Audio will be rebroadcast Monday, Dec. 4, at 7 p.m. on WEOS-FM, and the video is available online at