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Friday, January 26, 2007

Davos 07: the old showman takes a bow

 Davos 07: the old showman takes a bow

Speech of the day was Israel's Tzipi Livni, but it was Shimon Peres who cast a spell over the audience.

Alan Rusbridger

January 25, 2007 11:41 PM |

Best speech of the day I caught was from Tzipi Livni, the deputy Israeli prime minister, in the early evening session on the middle east.

The session began with three powerful little films from Tel Aviv, Ramallah and Jerusalem assembled by the OneVoice foundation, which brings together young people from both sides of the divide (its driving force in the UK is the charismatic United Business Media CEO David Levin). In each film the participants appealed directly to the grandees at Davos to use their influence to move things on from the current destructive stalemate.

The first response came from Mahmoud Abbas, president of Palestinian National Authority. In translation the speech was measured, if a touch heavy, formal and with only a glancing response to the films. Livni - her website records a few years working for Mossad as well as a law degree and two children - spoke simply, sympathetically and directly to the concerns of the young voices we'd heard. She gave a quiet assessment of where things stood. It was human and decent stuff.

And then the great charmer and showman himself. The organisers had been hoping for Olmert, but they got Shimon Peres. Is there anyone on the international stage who speaks English more beautifully? He may be 84. He may be the ultimate re-tread politician. English may be his second, or even third language. But he manages to speak in a stream of apparently effortless epigrams which few, if any, British or American leaders can match.

He nodded gracefully to Livni: "In spite of the fact we belong to the same government I believe in every word she says." On the difference between Hamas and and Fatah: " Fatah represents destiny, Hamas tradition." On government versus business: "Government must be conservative - they must defend what they have. Companies must take risks - they must make profits from things which don't exist...governments have budgets, they don't have money."

And so on. Some of the most elegant bon mots, inevitably, were less profound than they sounded. Some sounded gorgeous but were, on a second's reflection, meaningless. He still cast a spell on the audience - even if many of them must have gone away hoping that Livni might be a better pointer to a future promise of peace.

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