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SHIMON PERES - (1923- 2016) DREAMER & VISIONARY

President Barack Obama welcomes Israeli President Shimon Peres in the Oval Office (2009)

Jerusalem:

Why did world leaders and ninety delegations from seventy countries attend the funeral of Shimon Peres in Jerusalem? An amazing number for a tiny country that is more often than not the butt of unbridled criticism in the corridors of the UN. They did so, as stated by US President Barack Obama, because Peres achieved the international stature of a Nelson Mandella during his incredible career that never ended until his final stroke.

First Peres bolstered the capability of the fledgling Jewish state to survive the repeated attempts by its Arab enemies to annihilate it. His contribution to Israel's defense was possibly more, and certainly no less, than many of the state's vaunted military commanders. To this very day, Israelis stand strong against threats unparalleled by any other democratic country. Although survival had to come first in the reborn homeland of the Jews, it was to be followed by a ceaseless quest for peace with her Arab neighbors.

The story of Shimon Perski began in Poland where he was born on August 21,1923. At the age of eleven, Shimon was lucky enough to be sent to Mandatory Palestine where he was educated at the Ben Shemen Agricultural School. There he enjoyed working as a shepherd and gazing at the stars. Maybe that's where the dreamer took over. After graduating, he moved on to help found Kibbutz Alumot. The kibbutz movement attracted the best and most idealistic young men and women of their time. Back in Poland, the Nazis were on the rampage. Shimon was later to learn that his beloved grand-father, with the other Jews of his town, was burned alive in their synagogue by the Nazis. At the time he wrote:

      'I pledge to devote my life to the service of my people'.

In Palestine, the winds of war were rising to gale force. The local Arabs and all the Arab states made a vow of their own. They rejected the UN Partition Plan for a two-state solution for Palestine and threatened to perpetrate a 'massacre of the Jews that would rival that of the Mongol hoards'.

In the kibbutz movement, the energetic Shimon embarked on his meteoric rise - his brilliant planning and organizing skills were recognized quickly. He soon caught the eye of no less than Israel's founding father David Ben Gurion. BG knew a good man when he saw one; Peres at the age of twenty-four was put in charge of procuring weapons for the Haganah' defense force that had to prepare swiftly, for the war launched by the combined armies of the Arab states and Arab residents of Palestine. Peres performed with flying colors and when the dust had settled, BG appointed Peres to be his deputy at the Defense Ministry. He had then reached the ripe old age of twenty-nine. He was chockfull of ideas with the drive to carry along others with him. He founded Israeli weapons and aerospace industries that today are world class. The sky was the limit. Then there's the nuclear reactor at Dimona in the Negev that went operational, according to Wikipedia sometime between 1962-64:

      "Israel claims its use is for nuclear research. However the actual purpose of Dimona is believed to be the production of nuclear material for use in Israeli nuclear weapons. Construction commenced in 1958 with French assistance".

Peres himself wrote in 1995 that he and Ben Gurion collected $40 million, half the price of the reactor, from Israel's friends around the world".

In Labor governments, Peres teamed up with Gen. Moshe Dayan, another role model. Dayan, like other military heroes such as Ariel Sharon and Yitzak Rabin had proved their worth and courage on the battlefield. In time they would launch their political careers in a nation constantly under military or terror threats. And naturally, the Jewish people, who had risen from the ashes of the Holocaust, valued these men above all others. In fact Shimon Peres, the immigrant from Poland, nearly always had to take a back-seat to such illustrious figures. And so it was with Moshe Dayan. Peres like Dayan, who through the years shifted from the tough, uncompromising commander of many wars, also opted for seeking a peaceful resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Dayan played a crucial role in forging the peace treaty with Egypt. So if BG had served as Shimon's father-figure during his early career, Moshe Dayan became his older brother. This included the quest for peace as expressed in Dayan's iconic saying:

      "Must we always live by the sword?"

Peres and Hussein

Interestingly Peres, while serving as Defense Minister in the heady days following the IDF's lightning victory in the Six Day War of 1967 was a champion of settlement building in Judea & Samaria(West Bank):

      'Can a Jew build a home in Brooklyn but not in Judea & Samaria!'

However this was a relatively short episode and followed the 'Three Nos of Khartoum' where the entire Arab world vowed 'No peace, no recognition and no negotiations with Israel'. The prospect for peace was light years away at that time.

I recall a background briefing with Foreign Minister Peres when he served in the 'rotation government' with Likud Prime Minister Yitzak Shamir. Peres spoke glowingly about the historic peace treaty that Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat had signed in 1978. While he gave Prime Minister Begin his due it was Sadat that caught his imagination. Peres elucidated how it was natural that Israel backed the peace treaty with Egypt. Clearly the vast majority of Israelis longed for an end to the bloodshed and was ready to follow Begin once Sadat had agreed to adequate security arrangements. But when Peres spoke of Sadat his eyes glowed - what a magnificent leader! He had defied the overwhelming will of his own Egyptian people, and the entire Arab world was furious that Sadat had made peace with the Jews. But Sadat, after the Yom Kippur War, realized that Israel could not be defeated and that it was in Egypt's interest to make peace. It was apparent Peres was also bent on striving for peace with the rest of Israel's neighbors. And he did not wait long. Without the knowledge of his boss, Prime Minister Yitzak Shamir, Peres through his trusted aid Yossi Beilin, opened a back door channel to Jordan's King Hussien. The idea was that the Jordan King would be allowed to regain control of the West Bank and re-impose his sovereignty over the Palestinians living there. And in return, Hussein would provide true peace and security with Israel. Peres met secretly in London to close the deal. This was really bold because Shamir was categorically opposed to withdrawing from Judea & Samaria under any condition. As Knesset Speaker, Shamir had even abstained from voting on the Egytian peace treaty worked out by his own Likud leader Begin. So predictably when Peres returned to Jerusalem to present it to Shamir, the Prime Minister hit the roof. One can imagine the hard line Shamir telling Shimon: 'Over my dead body!' Shamir chucked it into the rubbish bin. Only a dreamer like Peres could have ever thought Shamir would agree.

Peres failed to realize 'time was out of joint' - that he simply did not have the political power to push through his peace proposal with Hussien. Although Shimon was down he was not out. Fast forward a few years. He and Rabin patched up their bitter feud - Rabin was serving as Prime Minister and Shimon Peres again in the Foreign Ministry. Peres charted another course. By then Hussein was out of the picture and the first Palestinian intifada had erupted in 1987. The Palestinians had become players. So with Yitzak Rabin now sitting in the PM's chair, Peres + Beilin had a go at trying to reach a deal with the Palestinians in Oslo. Again Peres sort of left Rabin in the dark. For his part, Rabin did not really believe the Palestinians were ready to make peace under acceptable terms. However Peres and Yasser Arafat hammered out a five year plan for dividing the West Bank into three separate areas. IDF forces could act against terror attacks and remain along the Jordan River to prevent infiltrations from Jordanian territory. By this time, Rabin had signed a peace treaty with Jordan, in many ways paved by the earlier contacts initiated by Peres. Although not stipulated at the time, the Oslo accord referred to a five year period of good neighbor relations that would serve as a corridor to a Palestinian state. At the time, a majority of Israelis backed the proposal signed on the lawn of the White House on Sept. 13, 1993.

Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and Yasser Arafat receiving the Nobel Peace Prize following the Oslo Accords

On the night of Nov. 1994, Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin was shot dead by a lone assassin after attending a peace rally with Peres in Tel Aviv. Amid the pandemonium, Peres became acting prime minister. Public rage was running so high against the Right wing, there is no doubt that if Peres had called a snap election, as recommended by his advisors, he would have been a shoo-in against Bibi Netanyahu. Peres who had suffered prior election defeats and been branded a 'loser', did not want to be elected PM on the coat-tails of Rabin. So he decided to carry on until the next scheduled ballot. His personal pride ruled his political expediency. One of the most inexplicable periods in the entire Israeli-Palestinian conflict followed shortly after. Bear in mind that Peres had turned into the ultimate dove ready for a most generous compromise with the Palestinians. In their wildest dreams, the Palestinians could not have hoped for a more pliant Israeli leader. But what did they do? Arafat on the quiet gave the high sign to the terror leaders to go on a spree of suicide bombings in Israeli buses that murdered and maimed hundreds of Israelis in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. It was unbelievable - as if the Palestinians themselves were out to sabotage Peres - indeed they literally bombed him out of the PM's office. The election was shifted from Rabin's assassination to who was better for coping with the rampant terrorism. Bibi narrowly defeated Peres.

Peres went to become Israel's President after first losing to the Likud's Moshe Katzav, who is now doing time for rape!

Dreamer or visionary take your pick. There is no question that Ben Gurion was an incredible visionary with an acute sense of timing about what to do, when and how. Peres was somewhere between a visionary and a dreamer - sometimes his visions were ahead of their time for one reason or the other. In 1995, he published a book entitled 'The New Middle East' that envisaged a coming era of Middle East peace and cooperation. But instead a bloodbath is now sweeping many parts of the region for reasons that have no link to the Jewish state. But at the same time, countries like Turkey, Egypt, and Jordan even Saudi Arabia and some of the Gulf States now view Israel as an ally. What of the Palestinians? In a gesture to Peres, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas after his stubborn refusal to negotiate did show up to pay his respects at the Peres funeral. He shook hands with Bibi but there is no word that this will lead to anything. For his part, Netanyahu did not acknowledge the presence of the Palestinian President.

US President Barack Obama made another stirring speech not only praising Peres but chiding Bibi to follow the Peres quest for peace:

      'People who speak with depth and knowledge, not in sound bites. They find no interest in polls or fads... to cut against the grain of current opinion'.

The international reaction was a welcome and strong show of support for the Jewish state but it was also an urging for Netanyahu to put something on the table for the Palestinians. Can and will Bibi reciprocate? It's hard to say. The first test will be whether he complies with an Israeli High Court ruling to evacuate housing built on private Palestinian owned land in the West Bank settlement of Amona. Then there's the possibility of a new settlement building announcement in the pipeline.

And what of the Palestinians' response to their leader attending the Peres funeral. Some want to tar and feather President Mahmoud Abbas. Mahmoud al Zahour a top Hamas official in Gaza branded Abbas as 'a Jew made in Israel!' Abbas did not represent the Palestinian people and deserved to rot in Hell alongside Shimon Peres.

Tufik Tirawi, a member in Abbas's own Fatah party said if he had been consulted he would have opposed attending the funeral of a Zionist who was 'covered with Palestinian blood from head to foot'.

On the other hand, A Fetah spokesman defended Abbas saying the national interest guided all his steps. On the contrary, it was the Hamas leadership that split Palestinian unity for the sake of personal gain and an agenda that was not in the Palestinian interest. Another Fatah official Osama Kawasma rejected the criticism saying Abbas had rebuffed all the threats and pressures aimed at renewing peace talks under Netanyahu's terms. (In fact, Bibi has offered to negotiate without prior conditions- DE).


 

 

 

David Essing

 

 

 

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