Published On: Wed, Oct 5th, 2016

As a peacemaker, Shimon Peres never won over the Israeli public

Share This
Tags

5By Anshel Pfeffer

Although a hawk in his early career, his later attempts to forge peace deals with Israel’s neighbours didn’t equate to electoral success or stand the test of time.
Two weeks ago, 13 September, was the 23rd anniversary of the signing of the Oslo Agreement, Shimon Peres’ diplomatic masterstroke that was supposed to lead to a peace treaty between Israel and the Palestinians. In the early afternoon, a rocket streaked across the Mediterranean, clearly visible from the windows of his office in the Peres Peace Center near Jaffa’s coastline. It was carrying a spy satellite, made by the Israeli Aerospace Industry that Peres had founded over half a century earlier. The rocket was a civilian version of the Jericho missile, reported to be the launcher of Israel’s nuclear weapon, developed by the project founded by Peres in the 1950s.
That evening, as he was being rushed to hospital in the early stages of a massive stroke from which he would not recover, a new $38bn military aid deal was announced in Jerusalem and Washington. It had been Peres who had signed the first arms deal with the United States in 1963.
Shimon Peres, who has died at the age of 93, spent the first half of his public career building Israel’s military might and ensuring its security. The second half was focused on increasingly forlorn attempts to bring peace to his country. The sad irony of his life was that he had been much more successful in his first chapter. His efforts to reconcile the Jewish state with its Arab neighbours failed to achieve similarly lasting results.

If Peres had resigned from frontline politics at the age of 54, as many of his colleagues were demanding, after having lost the 1977 general election as leader of the Labour party to Likud’s Menachem Begin he would be remembered as one of Israel’s most legendary security “hawks”. The man who had purchased the arms for Israel’s army during its early years and conducted the secret negotiations with France for the supply of the Dimona nuclear reactor. The first patron of the Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Instead, most of the eulogies now being written in his memory are extolling him as a man of peace. For a man who loved to talk of his own experiences and thoughts, Peres never explained the transformation he underwent in the wilderness of opposition.
His many detractors said that Peres simply had no choice. With Begin and Egyptian president Anwar Sadat ending the state of war between the two nations and signing the Camp David peace agreement, he had no choice but to move leftwards and try to present himself as a better peacemaker than his Likud rivals. His supporters explained that Peres knew more than anyone else just how strong and secure Israel had become, and could therefore make concessions and take risks for peace in its dangerous neighbourhood. Whatever his motives, he failed to convince the Israeli public with his vision.
He led the Labour party in five general elections between 1977 and 1996 and failed each time win an outright victory. His best result was a stalemate with Likud in 1984 which meant he had to share power with his hardliner opponent, Yitzhak Shamir. In two years as prime minister he was busy mainly with stabilising the economy and pulling most of Israel’s troops out of Lebanon. In 1986, he became foreign minister and began secretly negotiating with Jordan’s King Hussein. But the London agreement they reached, which could have launched a peace process including the two countries and the Palestinians as well, was vetoed by Prime Minister Shamir. Peres simply did not have the political or public support to defy him.
Six years later, he succeeded, once again as foreign minister, in persuading a reluctant and sceptical Yitzhak Rabin to go along with the Oslo process and shake hands with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat on the White House lawn. The international community recognised the breakthrough by giving the three men a joint Nobel peace prize, but it was Rabin who had won the election and sold the agreement to the Israeli public. After Rabin’s assassination, Peres was left to carry Oslo on his own and lost yet again. This time by a sliver of a point to Benjamin Netanyahu. The Oslo process never survived.
There was always something too outlandish, too foreign and detached from reality in the way Peres spoke of his visions for a “new Middle East”. While opinion polls showed a majority of Israelis in favour of his positions, in principle, at the ballot box they preferred a stern rightwinger in government. They were willing to trust Labour only with a reassuringly tough retired general leading the party, like Rabin or Ehud Barak. Prime minister Peres simply wasn’t a combination of words that inspired enough confidence and security.
Perhaps the final irony of Shimon Peres’ life was that his last act in the service of peace, remains secret and undocumented. As an octogenarian president, he observed the conventions of the ceremonial office and refrained from openly intervening in politics. That didn’t stop the commanders of the army and chiefs of the intelligence services turning to him for advice when they felt their political masters were dangerously wrong. Towards the end of his seven-year term, he was the secret leader of the faction within the defence establishment that successfully worked to block the plans of Netanyahu, the prime minister and the defence minister Ehud Barak to launch a military strike against Iran’s nuclear installations, before it could build an atomic bomb.
Ultimately he had to rely on the generals and spy chiefs to avert war. He never convinced ordinary Israelis to make the same leap of faith he had.
Courtesy: The Guardian (UK)

If you thought this page is useful to your friend, use this form to send.
Friend Email
Enter your message
    Print This Post Print This Post

Leave a comment

XHTML: You can use these html tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>