He was an “Oslo criminal,” perhaps the “Oslo criminal.” In a country where war criminals are heroes and peace heroes are criminals, Ron Pundak was a different sort of hero.
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With the exception of Uri Avnery, who at 90 has just published the first part of his fascinating Hebrew-language autobiography — “Optimistic,” he titled it — Pundak was the most optimistic person I’ve ever met. He was an incorrigible optimist where peace was concerned, and no less an optimist about his long, cursed illness. A man full of hope who is no more.
Pundak was the youngest, and nearly the last, of the believers in peace. After him, the abyss. He wanted peace for peace’s sake, without pathos or guilt. Simply peace.
He wasn’t anti-Israel; he was a Zionist and a lover of Israel. He wasn’t an Arab-lover; he was clearheaded, one of the last few who still met with Arabs and saw them as equal human beings. Nor was he a romantic.
His dreams were realistic, even if they fit a reality much saner than the crazy one we’ve created here. Pundak didn’t miss a single initiative. He came to peace from a very patriotic place. The fire that burned in his soul was ignited not by injustice to the Palestinians but by the future of the country he loved and that never repaid him for his labors.
Fire? Pundak was a cool man, as befits someone who grew up in a Nordic home, a Scandinavian-Israeli. His father Herbert (later Nahum) was perhaps the only journalist in history to be the editor of two newspapers in two countries at the same time — Denmark’s Politiken and Israel’s Davar Hashavua. (And he also worked for the Mossad at one point.)
He and his wife Susie have now lost their second son. Their eldest, Uri, the great hope of Tel Aviv’s Ironi Aleph High School graduating class of 1970, died in the Yom Kippur War.
I remember Ron on the beach of the legendary Sinai resort Aqua Sun, another province of dreams that is no more. Only once did he join his sister Michal and the special group that vacationed there regularly. Not once during his stay did he take off his safari jacket or obligatory moccasins.
Ron didn’t like the sun and sand. Maybe it was no coincidence that two of the main Oslo architects, Pundak and Yair Hirschfeld, of Danish and Austrian descent, respectively, weren’t your typical backslapping Israelis.
Something went wrong with their Oslo. To his dying day, Pundak remained convinced that the problem was the execution, not the plan or vision. In his Hebrew-language book “Secret Channel” — like another work he published in 2013 presumably knowing his days were numbered — he describes the incredible, rocky path that he, Hirschfeld, Yossi Beilin, Uri Savir and a handful of others traversed on their way to Oslo. It was from there to the White House Rose Garden for the signing ceremony, to which Pundak was not invited.
Pundak, a noble man, did not call to account in his book those responsible for the failure of the Oslo Accords. He was not one for hate, bitterness or petty accounting, not even when he was forced to leave the Peres Center for Peace because he focused more on peace than on Peres.
Once, at a modest birthday celebration that Beilin held for Shimon Peres in his home, in a corner near the stairs, Ron sat on the floor — pale, bald, weak and clearly in pain. Even then he didn’t complain. I’ll never forget that sight. On April 11, 2013, one year before his death, Ron, with chilling precision, texted me: “Your op-ed should have been the front-page lead.” The op-ed was titled “A letter from a ghost.”
Now Ron is dead, a ghost, just as another desperate attempt to blow life into the moribund peace process is set to give up the ghost. The man who wrote in his book, without even a touch of cynicism or desperation, “Fundamentally, the chance for a peace agreement remains,” would surely find fragments of hope even in these dark days. Now Ron won’t speak either. No one will speak of peace in Israel anymore.