Ezer Weizman, 1924-2005

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For better or worse, Ezer Weizman was a man who had contempt for trivialities and conventions, and lacked patience for what appeared in his eyes to get in the way of achieving the objective. Since 1978, when he underwent a revolution in his political opinions - from right to left, from the sword to the shovel, from patronization of the Arabs to straight- talking with their leaders - he was unrelenting in his efforts to forward the reconciliation with the countries of the region.

In every position he filled, and even when he wasn't serving in any position, he was ready to take to the road, talk with whomever necessary, press, take blows and forgo seats of power just so that he could promote what he viewed as the principal task - bringing an end to the state of war with the Arab countries and the Palestinians. "For 50 years we have been beating around the bush when the solution is known to all," he said.

Weizman decided in mid-life that peace is security and that borders have a limited security value. The archive includes simple, poignant - his rivals will say simplistic - statements that only Weizman could have made. One of them was about the security border in the east: "What is the Jordan River? A 10-meter-long sewage canal. Can this be a security border?"

He will go down in Zionist history as a man who fought in the War of Independence armed with a Spitfire, and as a man who in his position as commander of the air force turned it into a glorious corps and prepared it for the victory in the Six-Day War. He will also go down as someone who, along with Moshe Dayan, swept Menachem Begin into signing a peace treaty with Egypt in the wake of the breakthrough in 1977. These are achievements that not many leaders can credit themselves with.

Weizman was not a believer in interim arrangements, and believed that peace agreements with all the Arab states and the Palestinians were achievable. When he realized that Begin thought differently and had no intention of implementing the autonomy clause for the Palestinians in the Camp David agreements, he resigned from his government. Before resigning, he tried as defense minister to prevent the establishment of the Jewish settlement in Hebron and the settlements in the northern West Bank.

While serving as president, Weizman urged the government to reach a peace agreement with Syria, and was frequently asked not to intervene. He initiated talks with the Palestine Liberation Organization when he was a minister in the government of Yitzhak Shamir, when contacts with the PLO were banned by law. For this, he lost his seat in the government.

At the height of the first intifada, in 1988, Weizman was the only government minister who opposed the targeted killing of Yasser Arafat's deputy, Abu Jihad, arguing that instead of assassinating him, Israel should talk with him. "A cactus will grow on your hand before you find another partner in the PLO to speak with," he said. The desire to speak to the Palestinians and the Arab leaders did not stop him from demanding a halt to the Oslo process because of the terror attacks in 1995, to the chagrin of the government of Yitzhak Rabin.

A Zionist to the core, Weizman disparaged Jews who lived abroad and continued to espouse their Zionism. As a strictly secular individual, he didn't shy away from meeting with rabbis in order to lobby them in the cause of peace. He was "willing to wear a shtreimel [fur hat] for the sake of peace," he said.

Those who wish to remember Ezer Weizman as a colorful, unbridled character and a president who was forced to retire under embarrassing circumstances are doing an injustice to his contribution to the State of Israel as a pioneer in war and a pioneer in peace.