The novelist Amos Oz said Shimon Peres was a great statesman but a mediocre politician. In the hope that my comment won’t breach the prevailing political correctness, I would suggest the opposite. That is, Peres was a man of many deeds and accomplishments, including things that benefited the Jewish people and indeed the entire world. He was probably the greatest Israeli politician, but he was certainly no statesman, certainly not a great statesman.
Never but never did Peres forge an independent path of his own. He was always led. In the beginning, David Ben-Gurion, his great mentor, steered his path. With all his impressive abilities, Peres also promoted the policies of Moshe Dayan, in whose shadow he walked and worked.
In Zot Haaretz, the publication of the Land of Israel movement, Peres wrote fervent articles in keeping with the thinking of the authors and poets who were his spiritual mentors in those years: Natan Alterman, S.Y. Agnon, Haim Hazaz, Moshe Shamir and even Uri Zvi Greenberg. His sentiments toward these giants apparently dominated when he approved the establishment of the settlement of Ofra and the historic agreement – which Yitzhak Rabin was forced to accept – with the settlement group at Elon Moreh, the group that expanded the settlement movement into Samaria.
He could almost recite Alterman’s weekly columns in the Davar newspaper by heart, and when his spiritual and political mentors, whose reputation and stature were a major influence on him, passed away, he was swept up by other ideas fashionable around the world and embraced in Israel too. That’s how he found himself influenced by Oz, Yossi Beilin, journalists, academics and of course major world figures who captivated him (and whom he captivated).
In Haaretz opinion pieces, Gideon Levy and Ari Shavit have noted Peres’ uncontrollable need for love and recognition as an outsider born abroad. But thinkers and builders of the state such as Ben-Gurion, who was from Plonsk, Poland, Levi Eshkol, who was from Lodz, and Agnon, who was from Buchach, Ukraine, also grew up in remote towns. And unlike Peres, they were steadfast in their positions and beliefs and didn’t judge every stage of their lives based on whether it found favor and mercy in royal palaces and presidents’ corridors of power.
Peres received praise for the courage to change his views, but the opposite is true. He didn’t have the courage to stick to his views, so his only accomplishments were largely motivated by his desire to win love and respect in the right circles.
True, he was a Zionist in every inch of his being, but this Zionism dressed and undressed based on the changing fashions and the general zeitgeist. He would extend it and rein it in based on the passing sentiment. Even the Oslo Accords were the idea of others and directed by others, and without Rabin’s leadership (miserable leadership as judged by the bloody results), even this agreement would not have been signed.
A statesman is someone who breaks new ground, who leads his country with daring and determination down original paths illuminated by a well-rooted, deep and binding faith. Peres had the political ability – more than any other politician since Ben-Gurion – to lead the Jewish state in the direction of his choosing: the fulfillment of a great and activist form of Zionism.
He failed because since the 1980s, his fickle approach, one detached from reality, was worthy of the sublime rebuke of the prophet Jeremiah: “For My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.”
I mean this, of course, ideologically and politically, and by all means not in terms of observing religious commandments.
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