After Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was buried, on November 6, 1995, with all the great and good of the world present in a quantity and quality that hadn’t been seen here since the state was founded, Shimon Peres said to one of his aides, with a hint of envy, “Did you see how many people came to his funeral?”
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And in his well-known comic manner, the aide related, Peres bit his lip and donned an expression of woe, as if to tell himself, “he beat me again.”
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“He always told us how close he was to taking a bullet himself as he went down the stairs that Saturday night, two minutes before Rabin did,” the aide recalled. “We were never sure if he was happy or sad about that. He was also quite insulted when the murderer said he had stood at the foot of the stairs facing him but decided to wait for Rabin, because he didn’t consider Peres important enough.”
The air convoy now making its way to Ben-Gurion Internation Airport also settles this last, one-sided competition between two politicians whose rivalry and mutual jealousy over the course of about three decades was no less intense than their cooperation in the early 1990s, until Rabin’s assassination. Right up until the very day of the murder, a go-between was still running back and forth between the two in an effort to put out fires and quell the anger.
And Peres is giving Rabin a good fight. His funeral will be no less impressive, no less rich in world leaders, than that of his legendary rival.
Moreover, Rabin was murdered while he was still prime minister, by a right-wing extremist who sought to destroy a peace process supported by the entire world. Peres died at a ripe old age, two years after the end of his presidential term, when he no longer held any official position aside from the perennial one known as “Shimon Peres.”
The arrival of presidents and prime ministers for the funeral will officially make Peres one of the world’s great men, in the same league as Nelson Mandela. We won’t have another person like him. It’s doubtful there’s another person anywhere in the world who enjoys such a wide consensus.
The silence, as of Wednesday night, and the likely absence of Egypt's president (who didn’t personally know Peres) and the king of Jordan from the funeral, would undoubtedly sadden Peres. Their predecessors came to Israel to pay their last respects to Rabin.
Peres was given the rare gift of being eulogized twice: first after his stroke, over two weeks ago, and now, after his death.
Had he managed, by some miracle, to recover from the stroke, he would have had the privilege of reading the tens of thousands of words written and spoken about him. And maybe, just maybe, he would have been convinced that the love and admiration and gratitude for which he always longed, and which he always lacked, had finally become his.
Even when it seemed as if he had already achieved everything to which mortal man is capable of aspiring, he never rested for a moment from his feverish chase after a little bit more. The missed opportunities, the losses, the electoral defeats, the enormous helpings of scorn and contempt that he absorbed during decades of wallowing in the stinking political mud were etched in his flesh. And he never recovered from them.