If you live until age 93 with more than 60 years in the public eye, you are going to have your share of admirers and detractors. What makes Shimon Peres so interesting is how many seemingly contradictory adjectives are used to describe him.
Consider these words from about a dozen articles used to describe Peres: arrogant, humble; pragmatic, Utopian; integrity, duplicitous; arrogant, eloquent; ambitious, technocrat; flawed visionary, strategic thinker; hawk, dove, Mr. Security; patriot, traitor, statesman.
Although they share the Nobel Peace Prize for the Oslo Peace Accords, Peres and Israel’s assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin had a longtime political rivalry, so bitter that Rabin described Peres as “the indefatigable subverter.” The irony is not lost that Peres will be buried alongside Rabin on Friday. President Barack Obama will lead the American delegation to Peres’ funeral.
Peres has been Israel’s defense minister and foreign minister; its president.and prime minister, although he was unable to win an election to lead the country. As the last of Israel’s founding fathers, Peres leaves a complicated legacy.
Shimon Peres and the Saga of Sisyphus
Uri Avnery – CounterPunch
Shimon Peres has been a politician from childhood on – a real politician, a complete politician, a politician and nothing else. No other interests, no hobbies….
The career of Peres resembles the legend of Sisyphus, the hero of ancient Greek myth who was condemned by the gods to roll a heavy rock up to the top of a hill, but every time he approached his goal the rock would slip from his hands and roll down to the bottom.
Israel’s Last Founding Father
Itamar Rabinovich – Project Syndicate
Peres’s career had its ups and downs. He reached lofty heights and suffered humiliating failures – and went through several incarnations….
Peres became the architect of the young state’s defense doctrine. Running a sort of parallel foreign ministry, his main achievement was the creation of a close alliance and strong security cooperation – including with respect to nuclear technology – with France….
Twice, in 1977, after Rabin was forced to resign, and in 1995-1996, after Rabin was assassinated, Peres succeeded his rival. He was also Prime Minister (a very good one) in a national unity government in 1984-1986; but, despite trying for nearly 30 years, he never won his own mandate from Israeli voters for the post he coveted the most.
After Shimon Peres, Israel Will No Longer Be Young
Shmuel Rosner – The New York Times
To the outside world, Mr. Peres is known as a man of peace, the behind-the-scenes mastermind of the Oslo Accords that put Israel on a course of negotiations with the Palestinians.
But within Israel, this remains controversial. Even as we have followed the news of Mr. Peres’s hospitalization, many of us have had to hold our tongues about his legacy in Oslo. In a 2013 survey, 20 years after the Oslo Accords, 57 percent of Israelis said that the accords hurt Israel. For a large number of Israelis, “Oslo” had become a pejorative. Some even call Oslo’s initiators “the Oslo criminals.” For many Israelis, appreciating Mr. Peres requires casting aside their feelings about Oslo, just as Israelis cast Mr. Peres aside in the 1996 election.
Mr. Peres never achieved his goal of drawing Israel’s final border with the Palestinians. But a generation of founders rarely sees all of its dreams come true.
Shimon Peres: An Optimist Betrayed
Jay Michaelson – The Daily Beast
At the zenith of the Oslo peace process, shortly after the 1993 handshake between Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Peres published a grand vision for the region, a book called The New Middle East. Even in the heady days of the 1990s (I was living in Jerusalem at the time), it was derided as naïve. High-speed trains from Cairo to Tel Aviv to Beirut. International cooperation on technology, water, and natural resources. Though Peres had been a ruthless pragmatist for over 40 years,covertly developing Israel’s nuclear program and cutting arms deals across the world, he seemed hopelessly hopeful, deluded, utopian.
And then he was betrayed.
Peres, the Strategic Thinker
Dennis Ross – The Jerusalem Post
In the 30 years I have known Peres, I have seen him …think strategically, to imagine where Israel needed to be in the future, to embrace change and never fear making decisions. Many have described Peres as a dreamer, at times naïve, speaking of a new Middle East in the 1990s when the region was far from being transformed and resistant to globalization and its implications.I saw him differently. I saw a pragmatist who understood the danger of stagnation. I saw a leader steeped in the Zionist ethic that Israelis should shape their national destiny and not let others do so…
And it was Peres again, acting on the direction of Ben-Gurion, who worked intensively to produce the French decision to help construct the nuclear reactor in Dimona. For Ben-Gurion, nuclear power was essential not just for the electricity it would generate but for the message it sent that Israel would develop the means, if necessary, to possess an ultimate deterrent in a region where all of Israel’s neighbors rejected its right to exist.
Why Israel Will Miss Shimon Peres
Aaron David Miller – CNN
I remember how buoyant Peres was in 1993 after the Oslo signing ceremony — and how enthusiastic all of us were. And I know that he must have been thinking that he — a man who had championed the Palestinian track over Rabin’s preference for a deal with Syria –now had an opportunity to leave his mark. Begin would be remembered for making peace with Egypt, and Rabin later for peace with Jordan. Peres hoped that his legacy would be an agreement that could end the conflict with the Palestinians.
Sadly, that legacy now lies broken and bloodied. Yet I believe that Peres — as a realist and not a dreamer — still believed at the end of his life in the possibility of such a peace. And he no doubt recognized the danger to Israel if it ever let go of that hope. Three years ago, during our interview, Peres told me a two-state solution was still possible and achievable. I suspect that then, he himself was not at all sure. But he understood the risks of abandoning the idea.
How Shimon Peres Helped Bring Peace Between the U.S. and Cuba
Mike Fernandez – The Atlantic
In one occasion, he asked me where in Cuba I was born. I was shocked to hear him say, “I know where Manzanillo is at.” How could he possibly know? So I asked. With effort he leaned back and further sank in his chair and told me, “In 1947 or ’48, we needed weapons for Israel and we were buying them from anywhere we could. One place was Cuba”….
Last year, I visited with him in May. Our conversation turned, as it often had, to Cuba. I asked him, “Mr. President, would you consider joining an effort to help Cubans reconcile on both sides of the Florida Straits?” He almost jumped out of the chair in excitement. “I would love to,” he said. At 92, the idea of putting his energy at work on an issue of peace made him grin.