Shimon Peres was laid to rest on Friday in Jerusalem. In a long career dating to the 1950s, he served as Israel’s prime minister, defense minister, foreign minister, finance minister, and president, among other posts.
Peres, who died on Wednesday at 93, was born in Wiszniew, Poland in 1923, and in 1934 immigrated with his family to join the pre-state Jewish community in Mandatory Palestine.
Peres’s funeral was attended by dignitaries from all over the world, including President Barack Obama, Bill and Hillary Clinton, Britain’s Prince Charles, French president Francois Hollande, and many others. President Obama ordered U.S. flags to be flown at half-mast on Thursday.
The only other foreign leaders given that honor in the U.S. have been Nelson Mandela, Pope John Paul II, King Hussein of Jordan, Yitzhak Rabin, and Anwar Sadat.
Peres was a major Israeli figure with key achievements to his name. But in world leaders’ eulogies for Peres, those achievements went unmentioned.
For example, his achievements included:
— In the 1950s, forging a crucial arms deal with France, and persuading France to help Israel establish its alleged nuclear-weapons facility in the Negev desert.
— Helping to found Israel’s military industries.
— As defense minister in 1976, pushing for the Israeli commando raid in Entebbe, Uganda that freed scores of hostages after an airline hijacking.
But words like “weapons,” “military,” or “security” were entirely absent from the eulogies.
In their stead, we heard words like “peace,” “dream,” and “imagine.”
For example, here’s UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon:
Even in the most difficult hours, Mr. Peres remained an optimist about the prospects for reconciliation and peace.
Bill Clinton alluded to a John Lennon song:
Shimon could imagine all the people living in the world in peace. In his honor I ask that we remember his luminous smile and imagine.
When [Peres] spoke, it could be like listening to a psalm, and I loved sitting and listening to him, whether it was about Israel, the nation he loved and did so much to defend, or about peace or just about life itself.
Shimon never saw his dream of peace fulfilled. The region is going through a chaotic time. Threats are ever-present. And yet he did not stop dreaming and working.
Peres’s status as the dreamer and man of peace, of course, developed later in his career, in connection with his role in what was called the “Oslo process” between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization.
It was Peres as foreign minister in 1993 who, along with his deputy foreign minister Yossi Beilin, convinced the more skeptical Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin that PLO leader Yasser Arafat — arch-terrorist of the 20th century — had changed his spots and was ready to launch a peace process with Israel.
The words Peres and others used were noble, and the famous signing ceremony between Rabin, Arafat, and Bill Clinton on the White House lawn on September 13, 1993, stirred many hearts.
That very day — did you know this? — Arafat released a pre-recorded message in Arabic assuring Palestinians that the signing was just a step on the way to eradicating Israel.
Many Israelis protested, but they — both then and now — were dismissed as “right-wingers.”
After the signing, Arafat continually made similar statements to Arab audiences.
In particular, Arafat referenced the Treaty of Hudaibiya from the Koran — where Muhammad signed a deceptive treaty with his enemies that he planned to break as soon as the time was right.
The “right-wingers” frantically sounded the alarm.
But few listened. It was a time for peace, optimism, dreams.
Hope and change.
The immediate result — as Arafat and the PLO were given land in the West Bank and Gaza, money, and guns — was an outbreak of, by far, the worst domestic carnage Israel had ever known.
From the White House signing to the fall of Rabin and Peres’s Labor government in May 1996, 210 Israelis were murdered in suicide bombings and other terrorism; previously about 15 Israelis had been killed by terror per year.
This all hardly seemed to register with the likes of Bill Clinton, who always remained fervently convinced that Peres’s path was indeed the path of peace. Or, for that matter, on the Nobel Prize Committee, which — amid the bloodshed — awarded Rabin, Peres, and Arafat a Nobel Peace Prize in 1994.
On November 4, 1995, Rabin was assassinated by an Israeli extremist, and Peres took over as prime minister. A few months later the Israeli public, having had enough of the Oslo process, voted to replace Peres with right-of-center Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu.
Over the next three years, terror declined drastically to pre-Oslo levels.
To repeat: Provably, Netanyahu was the peacemaker.
But neither that, nor any of his other achievements, have ever earned Netanyahu the image of a peacemaker.
When Ehud Barak of Peres’s Labor Party defeated Netanyahu in Israel’s 1999 elections, Laborites and other left-wingers were ecstatic: the peace process had returned!
No, the carnage returned.
It was Barak’s brief tenure as prime minister that led, in September 2000, to a five-year terror onslaught by Arafat’s Fatah (the main wing of the PLO), Hamas, and Islamic Jihad that far exceeded even the mid-1990s carnage.
The Al-Aqsa Intifada, or Second Intifada, killed over 1,100 Israelis and wounded over 8,000 in dozens of suicide bombings and other attacks.
And that was your peace process, or Oslo process, for which Shimon Peres — its main ideologist and motive force on the Israeli side — was eulogized today. As a man who “remained an optimist,” “could imagine all the people in the world living in peace,” and “did not stop dreaming.” That, along with his penchant for cultivating friendships with international figures, and engaging in high-flown talk.
David Horovitz, editor of The Times of Israel, writes:
Peres was the face of Israel that the world wants to see: Warm and wise, a believer in the essential good of humanity.
Indeed, it is much more pleasant to see such an optimistic, glowing face. Who wants to hear words such as “carnage,” and be told about Iran’s relentless progress toward nuclear weapons, and the like?
The majority of Israelis are willing to take the long view of Peres’s life, and to honor him for his achievements — while praying that we never again see such “peacemakers.”
It appears that there are many in the world whom our voices can never reach. And it was Shimon Peres, with his constantly repeated message that peace was something Israel could have if it simply wanted it enough, who played a key role in making it that way.
The real lesson of Part II of Shimon Peres’s career is that policies built on dreamy words end in blood.
Survival requires learning this. Everyone’s survival, not just that of Israel.