Two states for two peoples

The Middle East is ailing. The malady stems from pervasive violence, shortages of food, water and educational opportunities, discrimination against women and — the most virulent cause of all — the absence of freedom.

There can be no peace without freedom. Economic growth is impossible without integration in the free global economy.

Tragically, this simple logic eludes us in the Middle East.

The young generation, which makes up most of the region's population, insists on equal rights, access to education and the jobs created by science and technology. These, not armies or land, are the new sources of national strength. And none is attainable without freedom.

The yearning for freedom lies at the core of human history. The defining moment for my own people occurred 3,000 years ago with our exodus from slavery and journey to freedom in our homeland. Similarly, the Pilgrims who sailed aboard the Mayflower sought freedom in their new promised land. This common quest for liberty forms the cornerstone of the deep friendship between Israel and America.

Still, the longing for liberty is far from fulfilled. It perseveres in many parts of the world, and nowhere more courageously than in the Middle East. My heart goes out to the brave citizens of Syria, who each day risk and even sacrifice their lives to achieve freedom from a murderous regime. We in Israel welcome the historic struggle to forge democratic, peace-loving governments in our region.

Yet no struggle for freedom in the Middle East can succeed without relieving the poverty that drains people's will. To achieve that will require fundamental transformations in society, giving priority to education and ending discrimination against women. There is no liberty where it is denied to half of the population.

In Israel, a land lacking in natural resources, we learned to appreciate our greatest national advantage: our minds.

Shimon Peres is the president of Israel.

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