There’s no denying it – the public interest in Shimon Peres’ death and the mourning it spawned abroad have been extraordinary. This is so even considering that nowadays practically every major event is turned into an endless media orgy, and that Peres was evidently the most influential figure left in Israeli politics.
- Israelis, Don’t Tell Us Palestinians to Mourn Shimon Peres
- Shimon Peres Was the Last of His Kind
- Was Shimon Peres a Man of Peace?
All kinds of reasons can be cited for this, but apparently the mourning was greatest not for Peres the president, Peres the prime minister, Peres the high-tech champion or Peres the builder of the Dimona nuclear plant. It was for Peres the eternal standard-bearer for peace, the indefatigable optimist, the perpetual symbol of the peace process, the man who left a singular legacy of a two-state vision.
Essentially, Barack Obama and the rest of the world lowered the flag to half-staff for the death of the dream of peace. Peres’ death forced us to acknowledge what we’ve felt for a while but what we've never heard officially declared: The peace process that peaked in the 1990s is over.
No further round of talks between Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas will change this; not one key public figure in Israel is identified with the quest for peace. The devastating feeling of being orphaned that has struck so much of the world is that much more painful because it quashes any illusion that something remains of the vision of a New Middle East.
But sometimes illusion is very dangerous because it can leave us in a state of political and diplomatic stagnation, or worse – intellectual and creative stagnation. There’s nothing worse for a vital political process than for its main player to be a 93-year-old. As long as Peres was alive, we could close our eyes and take comfort in the idea that the peace process was still moving, but this complacency was actually one of the main reasons for the dulling of the people’s alertness to Israel’s most festering issue – the conflict with the Palestinians.
The peace process became something like the kindly grandfather everyone loves but rarely visits. So now the time has come to recognize that this granddad is gone, and if we don’t infuse the idea of peace with new blood, we’ll have neither process nor a glimmer of peace.
Peres’ death presents both an opportunity and an imperative – to recruit new people, new ideas and new symbols for the idea of peace. The relay race has begun, and the quest for peace should find its bearings in 2017 with leaders, voices and a language part of the present and future, not just the past.
We must find it within ourselves to do the unbelievable and renew our interest in resolving the conflict that has lasted more than a century and the political situation that will soon hit the half-century mark. But we can’t do it with yet another recycling of old ideas, however pleasant or pragmatic they may be. Oslo, Camp David, a dove with an olive branch – this eminent chapter in Israel’s history is over – particularly, alas, concerning its ability to inspire the people and stir faith and a political force.
Now it is incumbent upon us to write the next chapter, one relevant to our current reality. Otherwise, peace, like Shimon Peres himself, will become history. A word etched on a gravestone.