The fourth President’s Conference − “Facing Tomorrow” − a three-day event in Jerusalem that will look at such weighty questions as where the Middle East is heading and whether the global economic crisis will deepen, opened yesterday evening with a barely-veiled criticism of goverment policy by Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman.

Kahneman, a psychology professor, discussed why, psychologically, “hawks win arguments they do not deserve to win, and appear sensible even when they are not being rational.”

Following an opening reception low on snacks but high on big-name Jewish leaders, President Shimon Peres, in a jaunty red tie, began the evening on a somber note, saying that in light of the recent occurrences along the Gaza-Israeli border, it was important to remember that “even though we are here to speak about tomorrow, we have to ensure that peace comes to the Negev today.”

Peres then conferred the President’s Award to former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger for “his significant contribution to the State of Israel and to humanity.” Kissinger opened his talk by saying he believed his parents, had they been alive, would have been “more proud of this distinction than any other that has come my way.”

Foreign participants in this year’s conference come from diverse backgrounds and various countries − U.S. political pundit Peter Beinart, French former presidential adviser Jacques Attali, British historian Professor Niall Ferguson, French chairman and CEO of the Publicis Groupe Maurice Levy, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Ivory Coast President Alassane Dramane Ouattara.

Over the coming days, attendees will delve into questions such as whether the United States is losing its central role in the international arena. Yesterday’s other speakers included swimmer Keren Leibovitch, the Israeli seven-time Paralympics medal winner, Yuri Milner, a top Russian venture capitalist and Internet entrepreneur, and Eric Schmidt, executive chairman and former CEO of Google.