Editorial |

Shimon Peres, the Symbol of Statesmanship

At a time when Israel is going backward and turning its back on compromise with the Palestinians, it’s sad to say goodbye to the last of the founders’ generation, someone who worked tirelessly all his life to secure Israel.

Haaretz.
Haaretz Editorial
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A photograph of former Israeli president Shimon Peres is displayed before the start of a special cabinet meeting to mourn his death. September 28, 2016.
A photograph of former Israeli president Shimon Peres is displayed before the start of a special cabinet meeting to mourn his death. September 28, 2016. Credit: Ronen Zvulun, AFP
Haaretz.
Haaretz Editorial

There is much symbolism in the timing of the passing of Shimon Peres — as the statesmanlike Israeli nationalism that he represented gives way to a religious-nationalistic state that is hard-put to integrate minorities and seeks to perpetuate the occupation. Toward the end of his life, given his stature as Israel’s elder statesman, Peres enjoyed the public’s love that had eluded him in the past. But that same public turned its back on his legacy, preferring the ideology of his greatest rivals on the right.

Peres’ history of service is more varied and impressive than that of any other Israeli politician. He served as prime minister, president, foreign minister, defense minister and finance minister and played a key role in the decisions that shaped Israel.

Peres established Israel Aerospace Industries and crafted the alliance with France that led to the 1956 Sinai Campaign and the nuclear reactor in Dimona. He coined the phrase “nuclear ambiguity.” He laid the foundations for settlement deep in the heart of the West Bank. He led the stabilization plan that saved Israel’s economy in 1985. And he conducted the negotiations over the Oslo Accords, which earned him the Nobel Peace Prize.

Then-Prime Minister Shimon Peres (center) during negotiations in 1985. Deputy prime minister Yitzhak Shamir is seated on the left.Credit: Saar Yaacov / GPO

As he climbed the ladder of his career, Peres represented the security-minded approach of Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, which sought to accumulate and display military force to bolster Israel’s position in its conflict with the Arabs. Like Ben-Gurion, his mentor and teacher, Peres preferred “the country’s welfare” to the rule of law — as evidenced in the Bus 300 affair of 1984, in which security officials killed two captured terrorists — and had a fondness for secret operations, like the abduction of nuclear spy Mordechai Vanunu and the Iran-Contra affair.

But in the 1980s, Peres underwent an ideological conversion, and ever since he has represented the aspiration for peace and compromise with our neighbors in the Israeli mind. He always sought the society of scientists and intellectuals and believed in human progress, openness to the West, education and technology.

Then-prime minister Shimon Peres in settlement of Ma'ale Efraim, West Bank. 1985 Credit: Hananiya Herman, GPO

Peres was farsighted about the state’s challenges, but had trouble convincing the Israeli public to adopt his solutions. He excelled as a diplomat, but as a leader he preferred problematic interim solutions. Examples include the decision to allow establishment of a settlement in Sebastia, the partial withdrawal from Lebanon and also the Oslo Accords, which allowed the settlements to keep expanding.

The public interpreted his moderation as weakness and turned its back on him. His three critical electoral losses — to Menachem Begin in 1981, Yitzhak Shamir in 1988 and Benjamin Netanyahu in 1996 — were turning points for the worse in Israeli history.

Nevertheless, at a time when Israel is going backward and turning its back on compromise with the Palestinians, a time when its leaders prefer holy books and historical fabrications to free thinking, it’s sad to say goodbye to the last representative of the founders’ generation, someone who worked tirelessly all his life to secure Israel an honored place among the developed nations of the West.

Shimon Peres and his girlfriend Sonia Gelman at a Hanoar Haoved summer camp in Zichron Yaacov, August 1939.Credit: GPO

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