Shimon Peres, former President of Israel, former Prime Minister, Foreign Minister and one of Israel’s founding fathers, passed away last night ate age 93.
Lavish praise was poured upon him by Israeli politicians from across the spectrum, possibly more than he ever received during his lifetime:
Netanyahu said he bowed his head “together with all the citizens of Israel, the Jewish People and many others throughout the world” in memory of Peres, “dedicated his life to the independence of our people.”
“As a man of vision, he looked to the future,” Netanyahu said in a statement. “As a man of security, he strengthened Israel’s power in many ways, some of which remain unknown to this day. As a man of peace, he worked until his final days for reconciliation with our neighbors and for a better future for our children.”
… He added: “Shimon Peres’s name will be etched forever in the book about the rebirth of the Jewish People, as one of the great leaders of the State of Israel, and as one of the founding fathers who established the State of Israel.”
President Reuven Rivlin, who was set to return from a state visit to Ukraine on Wednesday, said: “A short distance from where I am visiting in Ukraine, in the city of Vishnyeva, Belarus, was born Szymon Perski, who grew to be a young man with great dreams. From here, from Eastern Europe, he emigrated to the land of Israel, and ever since never ceased to work for the sake of the Zionist movement, for the sake of the State of Israel, and the people of Israel.”
“Shimon made us look far into the future, and we loved him. We loved him because he made us dare to imagine not what was once here, nor what is now, but what could be,” Rivlin said.
“There is not a chapter in the history of the State of Israel in which Shimon did not write or play a part. As one man he carried a whole nation on the wings of imagination, on the wings of vision.”
Education Minister Naftali Bennett (Jewish Home) described Peres as his own education minister for “writing history with his own hand.” Bennett recalled Peres’s vision for Israel to “export the country’s greatest asset – the Jewish mind.“
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (Jewish Home) said Peres had succeeded in bringing together disparate segments of Israeli society and in raising Israel’s international standing among world leaders.
… Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev (Likud) said she admired Peres’s vision, energy and strength, despite their different political views.
Peres was a “Zionist innovator, who was not satisfied with the present but always acted to change the future,” said Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel (Jewish Home).
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog said there were “no words” to describe the statesman’s contribution to Israel’s security and deterrence, his determined struggle against terrorism and relentless pursuit of peace, his work toward economic and social empowerment and toward strengthening its international status and his support of the country as a nation of innovation and courage.
Zehava Galon, head of the opposition Meretz party, said the scale of Peres’s contributions was “almost incomprehensible” and that many of his decisions had shaped Israel, “for good and for bad. From the settlements, through the nuclear facility at Dimona, and to the Oslo [peace] accords.“
The Yesha Council, the umbrella organization for the West Bank settlements, focused on Peres’s “great contribution” to the laying of a defense infrastructure for Israel and “to the beginning of Jewish settlement in Samaria.”
From the above eulogies one can see clearly that he was a visionary, an eternal optimist, and a steadfast, staunch supporter and promoter of the Zionist project in the State of Israel. He was a man who did an enormous amount for the State of Israel, with a hand in the development of Israel’s nuclear arsenal, the Navy, arms procurement for the besieged fledgling state, and much more beyond.
And yet he also caused almost incalculable damage with his peace delusions, leading to the Oslo disaster.
There are no end of articles about Peres in the press right now. Israellycool has a good short bio of Peres:
Shimon Peres served as a Member of Knesset for 48 years, the longest term of service in the history of the Israeli Knesset. He served as Minister in 12 cabinets and served twice as Prime Minister (1984-1986, 1995-1996), Deputy Minister of Defense under Ben Gurion (1959-1965), Treasury Minister (1988-1990), Minister of Defense (1974-1977, 1995-1996), and Foreign Minister (1986-1988, 2001-2002). In 2007, he was elected to serve as the ninth President of the State of Israel.
While our generation may mainly remember him as someone who actively promoted peace, Peres did a whole lot more. As a founding father, of Israel, he was recruited to the Hagana, where he was tasked with special assignments mostly involving personnel, defensive acquisitions and military research. One of his most important contributions was playing a pivotal role in developing Israel’s military industry, whereby he negotiated key arms deals with France and Germany, was the prime mover behind the development of our nuclear weapons (which we may or may not have), and promoted the development of Israel Aerospace Industries. And as Prime Minister, he led the “Economic Stabilization Plan” that saved the Israeli economy from collapse and reduced the hyper-inflation which reached 400% a year.
This excellent capsule biography of Peres, “Shimon Peres: Architect of War and Peace“, was written by David Gerstman at Legal Insurrection. Here is an excerpt:
Anyone who is familiar Peres, Israel’s ninth president (who retired from that post in 2014) and two-time prime minister, since then would think of him chiefly as the architect of peace with the Palestinians. Peres took his vision of peace and became an international celebrity in the process, even as the peace he pushed for never quite materialized.
But to remember Peres simply for his never quite realized dream of peace with the Palestinians, is to overlook the essential role he played in shaping Israel’s military in the 1950’s.
Ben Gurion’s Protege
In 1948, David Ben Gurion chose the then-24 year old Shimon Peres, who had come to Israel in 1934 with his family from what was then Poland, to head Israel’s navy. In 1952 he was appointed deputy director-general of Israel’s defense ministry. He served as director-general from 1953-1959.
During this time Peres not only built up Israel’s capacity for producing its own arms, but also developed military relationships with other nations, especially France. The ties with France were essential to the development of Israel’s nuclear program.
At this point, Peres appeared on a path to the premiership. He was young, ambitious, very good at what he did and was a trusted protege of Ben Gurion. But that path was detoured by the Lavon affair.
The On and Off Prime Minister
Still Peres remained an influential politician and became head of the Labor Party in 1977. But he lost the premiership to Menachem Begin in both 1977 and 1981. In 1984 he became prime minister as part of a power sharing arrangement with Yitzchak Shamir of Likud in a national unity government. The first 50 months of the government, Peres was the prime minister. During that time he withdrew most Israeli troops from Lebanon. During Shamir’s term coalition tensions led to the dissolution of the unity government and Shamir formed a Likud-dominated government in 1990.
Peres lost leadership of the Labor to Yitzchak Rabin, who defeated Shamir in 1992. Serving Rabin’s foreign minister, and assisted by Yossi Beilin, Peres tried to make peace with the Palestinians. The efforts resulted in ending Israel’s designation of the PLO as a terrorist organization and the signing of the Declaration of Principles on September 13, 1993 by Rabin and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat.
Rather than ushering in a new era of peace, the Oslo Accords, which allowed the PLO to set up a government in the West Bank and Gaza led to a wave of terror beginning in April, 1994 including car bombs and suicide bombings. Nonetheless in November, 1994, Peres, along with Rabin and Arafat jointly won the Nobel Peace Prize.
The Third Act
In 2007, Peres was Sharon’s choice to succeed Moshe Katzav as president of Israel. While the post is largely ceremonial, Israel’s president sometimes serves as a kind of ambassador to the world. It was a perfect fit for Peres, who, through his efforts at making peace, was on excellent terms with many current and former world leaders and celebrities. In 2012, President Barack Obama awarded Peres the Presidential Medal of Honor, America’s highest civilian honor. His 90th birthday party a year later was attended by Bill Clinton, Tony Blair and Barbara Streisand.
Even as Peres gained celebrity for his unsuccessful peacemaking, he spoke out in Israel’s defense. In 2014 at the outset of Operation Protective Edge, Peres explained why Israel was justified in striking at Hamas.
When he presented Peres with the Presidential Medal of Honor, Obama described him as “the essence of Israel itself – an indomitable spirit that will not be denied,” Obama was correct. If you read about how Peres built Israel’s army and defense industry, it shows a man who was willing to suspend disbelief and believe that he could do anything that was necessary to achieve the results he desired.
It was that same spirit that pushed him to make peace with the Palestinians. Unfortunately in his zeal, he overlooked the critical factor in making peace, which was whether or not his adversary wanted it.
Ironically, “The New Middle East” Peres envisioned taking shape in the wake of Oslo Accords, is possibly slowly taking place now. The motivation for Arab states to (secretly) seek closer ties with Israel is not Israel making peace with the Palestinians, but the shared threat the Arabs feel from Iran.
Indeed, despite my utter opposition to Peres’ peace delusions with the Palestinians, which persistently ignored Palestinian incitement, terror, and an outspoken objection to normalization with Israel, Peres was no bleeding-heart leftie when it came to defending Israel in international forums. There were times when he sounded like he had read one of Netanyahu’s speeches.
Shimon Peres’ achievements during his long and active life story are legion and fascinating. The Times of Israel has a great photo essay of some of the highlights of his Larger than Life story:
From his early childhood in a village in what is today Belarus to his days as a young official in the Defense Ministry, his walks with Israel’s founding prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, his countless meetings with popes and politicians, children and celebrities — pictures of his turbulent, decades-long career abound.
What follows is but a small selection, culled from various official and private archives, including a rare photo of an email sent from the Columbia space shuttle in which legendary astronaut Ilan Ramon thanks Peres for making him “the first Israeli ever to fly to space.”
Peres was famous as much for his forward-looking, inquisitive and youthful mindset as for his peace-making ventures and delusional optimism. Just hours before his stroke he made a video urging Israelis to “buy blue and white” (i.e. Israeli goods):
He could also laugh at himself, a sterling quality in any politician. Here he is job-hunting after finishing his term as President:
While he was alive Shimon Peres was the target of much (and often justified) vituperation as “an inveterate underminer” (according to Yitzchak Rabin) in politics, as a delusional peace-maker who refused to see the murderous intentions of the other side, whose Oslo disaster brought about the murder of over 1,000 Israelis, and as an incurable optimist who didn’t seem to see the dangers ahead of his many grandiose ideas.
And yet I cannot bring myself to condemn a man who did so much for our country, who helped literally build the state, who helped obtain Israel’s nuclear reactor (which he guilelessly called “a textile factory” to outraged foreign diplomats), and who always showed his unbounded love for Israel and the Jewish people.
May his memory be for a blessing.
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