06/18/2013 08:04 am ET Updated Aug 18, 2013

Facing Tomorrow


Today we open the 5th Presidential Conference in Jerusalem, entitled Facing Tomorrow. The Middle East faces challenges that require bold leadership and vision. The problems facing our region are clear, we have to relate to them responsibly and with energy. Threats must be stopped, opportunities must be seized. The most pressing challenge we face is to bring about peace and stability to the region and freedom and human rights to its residents. Hatred and extremism remain the gravest threat, peace with our neighbors our greatest hope and the potential of science the most astonishing opportunity.

Lately it seems like the prevalent attitude when it comes to the peace process in our region has been skepticism. Many people have buried the negotiations and doomed any chance for dialogue. I have always been an optimist but I believe that in this case, it is not optimism but realism that leads me to judge that our present conditions are conducive to breaking the impasse.

History should be judged not by events but by developments. It is developments which help us identify the direction in which the world is going. As Israel continues to search for peace with our neighbors we see promising developments. 65 years ago we were surrounded by enemies, 45 years ago the Arab world continued to reject our existence in this region. For years, peace remained an orphan. Since then we have made peace with Egypt and with Jordan, we have the beginning of a peace process with the Palestinians and a strategic offer now replaces the previous call of war in favor of the present call for peace.

The Arab Peace Initiative is a welcome declaration, and while it is just a basis, it can serve to create a new construction. We should deal with the details in the negotiating room, creative solutions exist to bridge the issues that remain, solutions can be foreseen. We agreed upon the basic solution; two states -- a Jewish state, Israel and an Arab state, Palestine, living side by side in security and dignity.

We face the obstacles of a shortage of trust and an abundance of skepticism. I have known President Abbas for many years, he is a credible partner and a man who seeks peace. Renewed peace talks can serve to prove to the Palestinian people that terror holds them back and peace can help drive them into the future.

The mission that President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry are leading can create a new environment in the Middle East.

We don't have enemies. There is no country, no religion, which we consider an enemy. Our only enemies are those who reject peace, sow division, and spread hatred.

The challenge in the Middle East is poverty more than politics. Our region can benefit from the offers of modern technology. The progress which science has made in recent years brings unprecedented opportunities for solving many of the problems which Middle Eastern countries face. Innovation can offer us entirely new perspectives in tackling issues like health, education, food security, and even employment.

Facing Tomorrow requires us to look past the immediate hill to the broader horizon, keeping an eye on the next innovation which will better our lives as human beings. Israel has a great deal of experience in innovation. Over 65 years, we have made the desert bloom by introducing hi-tech agriculture which relies on science more than on soil and rain. I remember the days when all we had was a refusing land, scarce rainwater, and barely any natural resources. These harsh conditions are similar to those of our neighbors. Israel is ready and willing to share its experience with any and all who wish to benefit from it.

At the Facing Tomorrow conference in Jerusalem we have some of the world's leading scientists, researchers, analysts and entrepreneurs who are engaged in the daily task of unlocking the secrets of science from the human brain to the expanses of space. It is through that research, through a dedication to scientific development that we can help alleviate poverty, end hunger and tackle the problems faced by the Middle East today which are more existential than political. Our people undertook a long and painful journey to the Promised Land. Now our task is to make it into a Land of Promise. Israel has discovered that the treasure contained in human beings is far richer than the treasure found in the land.

Progress can be achieved by bringing together the expertise and goodwill of the millions of talented young people in our region. Armies cannot conquer science, police cannot arrest innovation. The future belongs to science and peace. Like scientific development, peace cannot be achieved by force, and like science, peace offers us the hope of a brighter future.

I have often been called an eternal optimist, it is the promise of peace and of science which keeps the optimism burning inside me, which keeps me dreaming and imaging a better future for our region. I have seen our country transform from a dream to a reality. I have seen our youngsters turn swamps into orchards. I have seen our leaders make peace with neighbors -- Jordan and Egypt. I have earned the right to believe in a brighter tomorrow, in a future of peace and progress. History is driven by optimism, it has no reverse gear.

Over the next few days in Jerusalem we will dedicate our time not to yesterday, but to Tomorrow.

My friends, atop the 90 years of my lifetime, I can tell you, the future looks beautiful.