He dreamt of becoming a shepherd or a poet, but learned that one can enjoy being Israel's
No. 1 citizen as well. President Shimon Peres
on Wednesday looked back on his first three years as president, telling reporters that "these are the happiest years of my life."
When he was sworn in at the Knesset three years ago, he took the podium and said: "I didn't dream of being president. My dream as a boy was to be a shepherd or a poet of stars."
Since then, he has managed to hold some 700 diplomatic meetings, give about 600 interviews to the foreign press, travel abroad on official visits 27 times, and host some 260 events and ceremonies at his residence.
"I never knew the people in Israel this well, and it turns me into such an encouraged person," he said.
The extensive public support for Peres today is a relatively new phenomenon for this political dinosaur, considered the last giant of his generation. Peres still remembers his days as a controversial figure in Israeli politics.
"Free of all political matters – of the rifts and arguments, and reading in the newspapers that I am the most popular person in this country, I ask myself when was I stronger? It was when I was on the controversial side, in struggles. But now I really enjoy my life in an extraordinary manner," he admitted.
"I have no nostalgia. I have more imagination and vision, and I believe Israel can become a pearl. I think I have been given an unusual opportunity to serve the State, without all the other political rules. It's a great privilege, and every day is filled with experiences for me," the president said.
"If I visit Switzerland for a day, I grow impatient and want to go home," Peres said, referring to the intensive lifestyle in Israel. "I don't care about mountains, banks and snow. Israel is a fascinating country with an unusual temperament. Everyone here is involved, and that's why people argue a lot," he ruled.
Even after his election, the president remains involved in the complicated and problematic Israeli politics and holds frequent meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
and Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
The man who defined himself as an "incorrigible optimist" says his great vision is still a peace agreement with the Palestinians, even before the end of his term.
"Is there a chance (for an agreement)? Yes. Even earlier, because I think it's not about the Arabs facing the Israelis, but the Arabs and Israelis facing a very demanding reality to which everyone must provide an answer," he said.
"I look at the Palestinian camp, which is already divided and has a huge battle going on. We must put an end to this matter. We also have all kinds of problems and issues, so in a strange way we share the same interest – to end the conflict. The alternative is extremely costly for both sides," the president added.
Peres went on to address the stalemated negotiations aimed at securing kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit's
has raised its demands. Apparently, there are waiting periods in negotiations. I know it's very painful, and naturally my heart is with the family, and like every Israeli I won't rest before I see Gilad return home safe and sound.
"I believe we'll see Gilad back home. It will be hard, not because of us but because of Hamas. Because of the nature of its activity and leadership, the differences in it. Every time they try to gain a bit more. At some point we must put a stop to it – otherwise, it turns into bargaining."