Shimon Peres is gone. He lived to a ripe old age and served his nation and his people well. No matter what the setback, no matter how vicious his enemies were – and make no mistake, he was relentlessly attacked throughout his political career by Israelis as well as Palestinians – Peres never backed down from his central dream: to make peace.
I include here a remembrance by Chemi Shalev, an Israeli journalist for Haaretz, who covered Peres for decades. It presents a fair look at how Peres was perceived at home and abroad.
“Peres fulfilled every major role that Israel had to offer yet often sounded as if he’d been unjustly denied. He was lauded and feted and admired throughout the world, yet felt deprived and thirsted for more. He is being hailed now as the godfather of peace in the Middle East, yet it was Menachem Begin who signed a peace treaty with Egypt and Rabin who reached an accord with King Hussein of Jordan, while Peres’ offspring, the Oslo Accords, stalled and derailed. And while the 1993 agreement was a springboard for an unprecedented Israeli renaissance in the diplomatic, cultural and technological arenas, Peres was denied proper credit and singled out instead as the man who brought terror to Israel’s doorstep.
In his latter years, Peres was Israel’s fig leaf. The man who was always depicted as a foreign entity miraculously metamorphosed into a poster boy for the Zionist entity. He was the Israel that everyone wanted it to be, rather than the country that actually is. He epitomized an innovative, forward-looking, peace-seeking cosmopolitanism, an Israel that is a member in good standing in the international community, a beacon onto the nations rather than a recalcitrant occupier and subjugator of the Palestinians. He was unappreciated and undermined, by Israeli politicians as well as American Jewish leaders, when he needed help and was in a position to make history; he was embraced and placed on a pedestal only when it made no difference at all.”
Amos Oz, the great Israeli writer and social critic, underscored the sadness so many feel over the genuine lack of effort from both Abbas and Netanyahu to do anything resembling working for peace. Bibi is happy with the status quo, and Abbas can’t walk ten steps without someone from Hamas sticking a leg out to trip him. This stalemate born of expediency, outrageous mendacity – on both sides — and an attitude of laissez-faire has extirpated Peres’ dream of shaping a 2-state solution.
“There were two tendencies in Peres – on the one hand a deep respect for reality and its constraints, and the other an impulse to change that reality, and even further, the capacity to change himself.”
“Peace is not only possible, it is necessary, because we are not going anywhere. We have nowhere to go. The Palestinians also are not going anywhere. They have nowhere to go… Where are the brave leaders who will stand up and realize this? … Where are Shimon Peres’s successors?”
Oz here asks a haunting question. Where are the dreamers with courage and soul like Peres had? It’s a good question, and not rhetorical at all. It’s a question we should all be asking as we look at the world today.
I pray that the memory of Shimon Peres be a blessing always. And my deepest, most heartfelt prayer today, on the last Shabbat of 5776, is that his spirit lives on in the dreams that must never die.