Shimon Peres is a man who has served as prime minister of Israel, received a Nobel Peace Prize and been integral to the Mideast peace process - the crowning achievement of his career, and his answer is swift.
"It would be saving the hostages held in Entebbe on the fourth of July in 1976."Why?
"Because it saved so many lives, with so little loss to our side."
The raid by Israeli commandos - freeing more than 100 hostages held by Palestinian terrorists on a hijacked Air France jet at the airport in Entebbe, Uganda - is considered a textbook example of excellence by military special forces. Peres, Israeli defense minister at the time, is credited with masterminding the raid.
Peres, who spoke with the Deseret News on Friday morning in a telephone interview from Israel, will lecture in Salt Lake City on Oct. 29.
Though he's never been to Salt Lake City, Peres said he has a great appreciation for "the Mormons," and, in 1984, approved of the building of Brigham Young University's Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies.
The center had caused some controversy in Israel, especially among ultra-Orthodox Jews who feared it would be used as a base for proselyting. Peres, however, told the Deseret News that he favored building the center.
"I know the nature (of the LDS) religion," Peres said. "I know something of their devotion and deep belief. They feel respect for the Lord and other people in very sincere terms."
Peres, recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for helping build peace in the troubled Middle East, said his Salt Lake lecture will address making peace in that region.
The Mideast peace process is often described in terms of trading land for peace, a formula that suggests Israel will give land for the creation of a Palestinian homeland in exchange for the promise of peace from Palestinians.
The first steps in that process already have been taken, with Palestinians now controlling some areas of the West Bank. But larger issues - notably what happens to Jerusalem itself - loom.
Peres said the blanket "land for peace" notion isn't exactly correct.
"I don't think this is the right description. We must partition the land according to the demographic layout. The thing is about community."
That means, Peres said, two separate nations. A single integrated nation simply won't work.
"You can make an omelet from eggs, but you cannot make eggs from an omelet. If you mix Arabs and Jews it will become an omelet. We have to partition to allow us to live as a community.
"It is possible," he asserts, "to live side by side as two separate nations."
"It must be that way for us, and it must be that way for the Palestinians. Otherwise it may become a binational state, something that neither side wants. If you mix the Jews and the Palestinians, it may create a situation like that which exists in Bosnia. We can't let that happen.
"We should be neighbors on good terms without trying to rule each other."
Peres is heartened by recent peace overtures between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Net-an-ya-hu's government and Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority. But Peres remains skeptical.
"I'm glad they are going to meet again. Yet I'm not so sure that this gap is going to be bridged over. While the mission requires compromise, it is one thing to compromise and another thing to con-clude. I'd like to see a greater spirit of compromise on both sides."
Peres says that spirit is absent from the rhetoric of Hamas founder Ahmed Yassin, who was released from an Israeli prison earlier this month. Hamas is a militant Islamic group that talks of "holy war" to establish an Islamic state in what is now all of Israel.
But upon his release from prison, where he had served eight years of a life sentence for ordering killings of Israeli and Palestinian collaborators, Yassin said Hamas might now be willing to negotiate rather than continue terrorism to thwart the peace process. But the offer was accompanied by a demand for a full Israeli withdrawal from occupied lands.
"You don't negotiate with ultimatums," Peres told the Deseret News. "Saying, `You must accept my position fully otherwise there won't be peace,' is no beginning."
Peres' Salt Lake speech is scheduled for noon Wednesday, Oct. 29, in the Union ballroom at the University of Utah. The public lecture is free. A reception and dinner are scheduled for 6 p.m. Information is available by calling 328-8899.
Peres' visit is sponsored by World Affairs Forum. The group describes itself as a "Utah-based nonprofit, nonpartisan, citizen-sponsored program that provides a platform for spokespersons addressing key issues of international, national and local interest."