Ron Pundak, one of the architects of the Oslo Accords and a leader of the Israeli peace camp, passed away in his home on Friday morning after a long battle against cancer. Pundak was 59.
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In the early 90s, prompted by then deputy Foreign Minister Yossi Beilin and with the go-ahead of Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, Pundak, a historian and journalist, initiated together with fellow academic Yair Hirschfeld a secret channel of communications with the Palestinian Liberation Organization in Norway.
The secret channel, nicknamed "the academic talks," which took place in an Oslo research center with the approval of Norway's government, eventually led to the Oslo peace process.
In his book "Secret channel: Oslo – the full story," Pundak described the clandestine process which preceded the accord signed in September 13, 1993, on the White House's South Lawn. "The secret journey which led to the handshake between Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat started nine months earlier in a meeting in Norway," he wrote. "The possibility that this meeting will lead to talks which will culminate in signing a statement of principles did not appear even in our wildest dreams.
"The messages we've received from Abu Ala, coming from Arafat and Abbas, were revolutionary. They want peace, they make due with a state within the 1967 borders, they understand both sides are running out of time, they oppose terror, they're pragmatic about the right of return, are interested in tight economic cooperation, wish to advance the regional aspect of the solution, push for meetings between individuals and communities on both sides of the Green Line and understand there's no other way but to find a solution which divides Jerusalem."
Pundak, who was the executive director of the Peres Center for Peace in Tel Aviv-Jaffa between 2001 and 2012, defined peace as a "way station."
"The greatest goal was and is to complete the process of establishing the State of Israel, which started in 1947 with the UN's partition plan," Pundak wrote.
"The two greatest achievements of the Oslo Accords were the historical mutual recognition by two nationalist movements – the Zionist movement in the form of the State of Israel and the Palestinian national movement in the form of the PLO."
Following the report of Pundak's death, President Shimon Peres said that Pundak "fought for peace until his last breath." Peres said that Pundak dedicated all his life to reaching peace with Israel's neighbors. "For peace, he was willing to do everything, sacrifice his life and dedicate every moment of it," Peres said.
"On peace, he knew no compromise. He was not only a believer, but a passionate one, and peace burned in him with an eternal flame. It's difficult to describe the communication between us and our Palestinian neighbors without his constant contribution. He never said never even facing the difficult situation, even after he fell ill. He didn't give up, he did not despair.
"The struggle for peace in our times is not easy, and surrounded by many doubters and not enough believers. But a faithful man like him gave the belief momentum. He was taken before his time, and he will be missed by all of us."
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said: "There are war heroes, but Ron was a peace hero. A Zionist who believed in peace and strived for it until the day he died, he wanted to contribute and push for peace, undeterred by extremists, cynics and the desperate."
Labor party MK Merav Michaeli said: "Ron Pundak's death is a terrible loss to the State of Israel and to Israeli society. He had everything our leadership lacks: Wisdom, sober outlook, deep understanding of reality, kindness and love of man. Pundak was dedicated to the State of Israel and tried to save it from itself; he died before he succeeded but his way will save us still."
Meretz Chairwoman Zahava Gal-On said: "I mourn the untimely death of Ron Pundak, one of the greatest peace advocates Israel has ever known.
"Ron has shown that there is an alternative to the extreme right's policy and the 'no partner' mantra. His life was dedicated to the Israeli public, and we'll miss him greatly."