An Optimistic Outlook: At the Age of 79, Widely Respected Israeli Elder Statesman, Former Minister and Foreign Secretary Shimon Peres, Remains Optimistic Peace Can Be Achieved in His Life Time. (Israel Palestine)

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Shimon Peres became prime minister by default after the assassination of would-be peace maker Yitzhak Rabin in 1995. The Israeli left and liberals who had pinned their hopes on him in the 2001 election--when Ehud Barak's Labor Party was humiliated in the polls--knew in their hearts he would never win an election to become prime minister. Instead, he has been working for peace with another former prime minister, Ehud Barak, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and now also with Palestine's first prime minister, Abu Mazen Mahmoud Abbas.

At a series of briefings, dinners and one public speech in London last month, Mr Peres revealed his optimistic view for peace, surprising everyone with the announcement he believes the conflict in Iraq might be the key that opens the door.

Conflicts in the 21st century are no longer about borders or resources, said Mr Peres, but about progress, modernity, and advancing against the forces that want to pull the world backwards or, at best, keep it where it is.

This latest conflict is "a war for modernity", the Israeli statesman said, and one that will finally give the people of Iraq and other Arab nations, a chance. "The past is written in red ink, in blood and hatred. None of us can change this. What everyone must now do is think about the future. We are living in a revolutionary age. Twentieth century wars were about ideologies, flags and borders. The new age is a world where science and technology allow us to co-exist, no longer divided between east and west, north and south."

His argument about the irrelevance of national borders in the age of globalisation, giant multinationals, and the search for new markets and modern ways of creating wealth, is doubtless applicable in many cases. However, he could not convince his audience in London that border and land issues would not remain a top priority for Israel and at the very heart of their conflict with the Palestinians.

"The new age is knocking on the door of the Muslim world as well," Mr Peres said. "They cannot live in the past, their traditions will not enable them to make a living. Islam needs a reformation."

Somewhat surpringly, he was not challenged by any of the Muslims present on religious grounds, nor did they appear to take his remarks as an affront to Islam. Instead, they applauded him.

But this golden 21st century vision is threatened by "Islamic terrorists,--as they call themselves," he went on. "Groups such as Islamic Resistance, Islamic Jihad and Hizbullah."

This particular notion has also been explored by intellectuals in Egypt, although they were discouraged from publishing their findings. They have argued, over the past two years, that traditional businesses, funded by Islamic finance houses were also financing terrors groups. Osama bin Laden himself and the Al Qaeda network have vast investment and finance in Yemen, Bosnia and Albania.

The Egyptian economists point to the Islamists' campaign against the UK retail giant Sainsbury, which launched the first large supermarkets in Cairo. Islamists took exception to entry of the British company into the Egyptian market, eventually forcing it to withdraw, incurring losses estimated at around $100m. The Islamists feared that this positive phase towards globalisation--providing employment for Egyptians, a market for local produce and cheap reliable goods for local consumers, was a step too far.

The giant Islamic finance houses and businesses--who own and operate Islamic fashion design houses, manufacturing establishments and stores selling a variety of Islamic-style veils and garments, were also concerned, seeing Sainsbury's as a threat to their business. …