RIP Shimon Peres: Last Great Israeli leader to believe in 2 State solution

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

I met an emperor once, but have only met a couple of presidents. Shimon Peres (1923-2016) was one. I met him briefly in the Green Room when doing an interview with Charlie Rose.

The Polish-born Peres made his best impression on me with his support for the Oslo Accords of 1993 and 1995. Had this peace process succeeded, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict might have been settled once and for all, with incredibly positive benefits for Palestinians, Arabs, Muslims, Israel and the United States. One key argument for terrorism against the US, that it is helping crush the stateless Palestinians, would have evaporated.

I know all the critiques of Oslo– that it essentially made the PLO into a policeman providing security to Israel. But it did also aim to halt and reverse the colonization process on Occupied Palestinian territory, and in my view the Palestinians were more likely to succeed if they had any kind of a state. Peres was willing to give them that. The stateless do not even have the right to have rights.

Make no mistake, Peres was a hard line Israeli nationalist, and had viewed Palestinian nationalism as a dire enemy. He had helped get arms for the Jewish community to prosecute the 1947-48 war, during which Israel won its independence but ethnically cleansed some 740,000 Palestinians. He later served as minister of defense. He played a sinister role in proliferating nuclear arms to Israel.

But he was also a dedicated Socialist and at one point headed the Socialist International, and that stance gave him an appreciation of the need for human rights for all human beings.

After the first Palestinian uprising or Intifada of 1987-1991, he and Yitzhak Rabin became convinced that it was implausible for Israel permanently to annex Palestinian land while keeping Palestinians themselves stateless. Peres was then foreign minister, and it took guts for him to meet with his old enemy, Yasir Arafat, to prepare for a peace process.

I remember an interview Peres gave at that time, in which he ascribed his willingness to try to achieve an epochal change in the stagnant Mideast situation. He said he had read a lot of Buddhist thought, and it came to him that nothing is permanent. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he thought, is ephemeral. It would come to an end. He implied that he concluded that it might as well end sooner than later.

That’s about the coolest thing a sitting politician has ever said.

Again, I’m not naive. He could be paternalistic toward the Palestinians and chauvinist about Israel, and, indeed, pushed Israeli propaganda in the US relentlessly. But it is hard to fault a man for being a dedicated patriot. When push came to shove, he put everything on the line to try to make peace. He was viciously attacked and lambasted as a traitor and a fool by the Israeli right wing, which has now taken complete control of the government.

His friend and colleague, Yitzhak Rabin, who as prime minister signed off on the Oslo Accords, was brutally murdered by the Israeli far Right, and the Israeli Right in general bears responsibility, what with all its talk of treason (traitors are executed, no?). Peres risked the same fate.

Binyamin Netanyahu thought peace with the Palestinians and giving up the West Bank were stupid ideas and he vowed to annihilate the Oslo Accords so as to assure the future of Israeli colonization of Palestinian land. He ran against Peres for the position of prime minister and won. He succeeded in his plot to derail the peace process.

In 2013, when Peres was ceremonial president and Netanyahu was prime minister, Peres broke protocol to criticize Netanyahu for continuing to say he couldn’t make peace because he had no Palestinian partner. He said that he’d known Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas for 30 years and knew that he was a peace partner. There is no Israeli left of any stature who would talk like that today.

Peres was the last decent man to rise high in Israeli politics. His removal from the scene leaves the management of the Israeli government to racists, warmongers, war criminals, ethnic cleansers, militant colonizers, and generally arrogant pricks and insufferable douchebags. They are smartly marching us toward a dangerous blow-up that Peres would have averted if they hadn’t marginalized him.


Related video:

AP: ” Former Israeli President Shimon Peres Dead at 93″

29 Responses

  1. “…..[h]e played a sinister role in proliferating nuclear arms to Israel.”

    Most Israelis would consider this his greatest legacy.

    Peres forged close ties with French president Charles De Gaulle who initiated a joint atomic energy research program for peaceful purposes during the 1950s which gave Israeli nuclear scientists incidental access to reports of French physicists of atom bomb detonation testing occurring in the south Pacific Ocean. It was these reports that gave Israeli scientists the needed expertise to construct their own atomic weaponry in the late 1960s.

    During the 1960s both DeGaulle and the Israeli civilian nuclear regulatory agency suspected that Israel was misusing the joint atomic research for creating weaponry and DeGaulle ended the joint research program as well as the French involvement in the design and construction of the Dimona nuclear facility in the Negev Desert.

    There is little doubt that Peres will go down in history as one of Israel’s greatest founding fathers and one who had a profound influence on Israel’s success as a nation – but Israelis will consider his role in establishing a nuclear deterrent to Arab and Iranian aggression to be his most prominent achievement.

  2. His friend and colleague, Yitzhak Rabin […]

    To quote from this week’s column by Uri Avnery, who knew Peres well over many decades

    Yitzhak Rabin […] was chosen Prime Minister, but was compelled to appoint Peres, whom he did not like, as Minister of Defense. […]
    The following years were hell for Rabin. The Defense Minister had only one ambition in life: to humiliate and undermine the Prime Minister. It was a full-time job,

    To spite Rabin, Peres did something of historic significance: he created the first Israeli settlements in the middle of the occupied West Bank, starting a process that now threatens Israel’s future. The furious Rabin gave him a moniker that has stuck to him since: “The Tireless Intriguer”.

    The lesser of two evils is still evil.

    In the case of Israeli politics, it is not even clear which one is lesser: the historical record shows that more illegal settlements were built with the Ashkenazi-led Ashkenazi-oriented once left-wing party at the helm than under the Ashkenazi-led Oriental-oriented right-wing Likud.

    Strikingly, eloquent pleas for peace are always uttered by “statesmen” well after they have held any actual power. However, in power their actions were quite real and not at all ephemeral, can be measured in thousands of lives lost and uprooted, and have metastasized the problems to be passed on to the next generations.

    • Thanks for the link. I really would believe Uri, who knew Peres so well and has often written about him.

  3. ” He played a sinister role in proliferating nuclear arms to Israel.”…read: Father of Israel’s atomic bomb.

  4. Oslo accords didn’t aim to halt and reverse the colonization process on Occupied Palestinian Territory and to create Palestinian state. There is no single word about Israeli settlements in the accords. Both Rabin and Peres continued construction of Israeli settlements.
    Also in 1994 Rabin said: “We do not accept the Palestinian goal of an independent Palestinian state between Israel and Jordan. We believe there is a separate Palestinian entity short of a state.”

  5. Yasmina

    He still is part of the oppression of Palestinians and land theft. No grief here. #freepalestine

  6. “arms for the Jewish community to prosecute the 1947-48 war”. I wish you would write about Plan Dalet and the Czech arms purchase. Few people seem to know about these.

  7. This carefully considered tribute to Shimon Peres is Informed Comment at its best. Thank you, Dr. Cole.

  8. “But he was also a dedicated Socialist and at one point headed the Socialist International, and that stance gave him an appreciation of the need for human rights for all human beings.”

    This is directly in contravention with what you write directly above. You can’t write that Peres had appreciation for human rights for all human beings and simultaneously write: “He had helped get arms for the Jewish community to prosecute the 1947-48 war, during which Israel won its independence but ethnically cleansed some 740,000 Palestinians.” This is patently obvious, but you can’t call yourself a believer of human rights (or be called a believer in human rights), and then ethnically cleanse an entire population.

    “Peres was the last decent man to rise high in Israeli politics.”

    A decent man does not engage in a defense portfolio that perpetrates the Qana massacre or defend the blockade on Gaza that makes children food deprived. Peres was a war criminal that perpetrated atrocities on Palestinians and Lebanese. To call Peres a great or decent leader or a believer in human rights is wrong, and it ignores and insults all the victims of his actions. The only thing Peres was great at was killing humans. I really can’t understand why so many people engage in hagiography of people that are so depraved. In this case, the result is particularly unseemly.

  9. Jens Møller Andreasen

    When the statements and actions are conflicted – believe in the actions. Peres initiated the settlements on the WB that made a 2 state solution impossible.

  10. Peres wasn’t perfect but who is? The fanatics on both spectrums will attack his memory because he didn’t pass their purity test. But they don’t matter. Let’s pause and honor the man for his extraordinary work on behalf of peace. He had a dream and it must be kept alive. RIP, Shimon.

  11. Juan, I fully agree with your post.
    Your readers may be interested in the following information which may demonstrate why Rabin was a great leader, and Peres a lesser one.

    Rabin vs. Peres: Greenlighting Assassinations at Crucial Points in History

    RABIN: The right-wing “demonstrations created the perception that Israelis overwhelmingly opposed [Rabin’s] policies….[Therefore, Rabin’s advisors decided to hold] a rally against violence…and in favor of peace.” The rally would also serve to recast “the regional conflict as a dispute between moderates and extremists, whether Palestinian or Israeli.”
    On the afternoon of the day the rally was to be held, 4 November 1995, Rabin “had denied the army’s request to target a certain Lebanese militant whose location intelligence analysts had suddenly pinpointed. [According to Rabin, the] potential retribution seemed to outweigh the benefits of the strike.”
    Tragically (and ironically), Rabin was assassinated at the rally by a fundamentalist Jew.
    (Dan Ephron, Killing A King: The Assassination of Yitzhak Rabin and the Remaking of Israel, W. W. Norton, New York: 2015, 165-6. Hereinafter, “Ephron 2015.”)

    PERES: “Toward the end of [1995], Israel completed its withdrawal from each of the cities in the West Bank except Hebron and from many of the towns and villages. Oslo II…was quietly taking shape.” While the withdrawals…occurred, “in the final days of 1995, another issue vied for [then-Prime Minister Peres’s] attention: Yahya Ayyash, Hamas’s master bomb maker, was finally in Israel’s sights.”
    “Ayyash had headed Israel’s most-wanted list since 1992. He excelled not only at engineering but also at persuading young men to become suicide bombers…” However, the decision whether to kill him was complicated.
    “Hamas had not carried out a suicide attack in more than four months, the longest stretch since the Goldstein massacre. Whether killing Ayyash would reinforce the trend or trigger a new wave of bombings and undermine Peres’s political standing was anyone’s guess. In effect, Israel would be gambling on the idea that Ayyash alone possessed the skills to engineer large deadly attacks. If he had trained others, a reasonable assumption, they would certainly want to avenge his death.”
    “[P]eres seemed to have had motivations beyond the immediate battle with Hamas, including a drive to match Rabin’s security record. And he needed a standout achievement…In late December [1995], he authorized the strike.” Ayyash was killed in early January 1996.
    On February 25, 1996, a bus exploded in Jerusalem killing 26 passengers. “Within days, Shabak pieced together a chronicle of the attack. Soon after the strike on Ayyash, a Hamas operative had slipped out of Gaza and crossed to the West Bank to plot the group’s revenge….A second suicide bomber…blew himself up…an hour after the Jerusalem attack but managed to kill just one person other than himself….[One] week after the Jerusalem bombing, the cell struck again – on the same bus line. This time, the assailant killed…nineteen…”
    “[T]he psychological impact of the third suicide attack in a week was devastating. Israelis who had withstood wars and sieges now talked about staying away from buses and public events. The government had sealed off the West Bank and Gaza, and yet Hamas continued its campaign.”
    “The day after the second Jerusalem attack, a suicide bomber [at an intersection in Tel Aviv]…detonated the forty-four-pound nail bomb he had strapped to himself, killing thirteen people.”
    As a result of the bombings, according to polls, “Netanyahu had closed most of the gap between himself and the prime minister.” During the campaign Netanyahu, “the terrorism expert”, exploited fear. Peres lost the May 29, 1996 election. The rest is history.
    (Ephron 2015, 218-28)
    link to

    • Thank you for the reference to the Shin Bet killing of Ayyash as the “trigger” for a wave of bus bombings that brought Netanyahu to power and a disintegration of the popularity of the peace process that PM Yitzhak Rabin had achieved via the Oslo Accords.

      Most observers had felt that the assassination of Rabin would result in stronger public sentiment in Israel for the peace process with Rabin as his standard bearer as President Lyndon Baines Johnson was to JFK’s legacy.

  12. the overriding fact imo is that he was the ‘father of the nuclear wmd’ –the secret arsenal…that alone should have doomed his “peace” prize…

  13. He said he had read a lot of Buddhist thought, and it came to him that nothing is permanent.

    The embedded racism within Israeli society and the consequent Israelis’ violent hostility towards Palestinians may not be permanent, but they will endure for generations.

  14. I am amazed that even someone as intelligent and informed as Professor Cole has bought into the Grand Myth of “Peres the Peacemaker”.

    In fact throughout both his tenures as prime minister he was explicitly opposed to the establishment of a Palestinian state. For example, in an interview with the Newsweek editors in 1995, Peres responded with a “resounding ‘No'” when asked whether a Palestinian state would ever be established.

    The first Israeli government which went on record with formally supporting a Palestinian state was in fact the Netanyahu government which succeeded Peres in the late 1990s.

    And it is curious to see the claim that AFTER Peres left “war criminals” took over, since this assertion flies in the face of such blatant war crimes committed with Peres as prime minister as the Iron Fist operations in occupied Lebanon in the 1980s and Operation Grapes of Wrath in occupied Lebanon in 1996 (involving the ethnic cleansing of hundreds of thousands of people and the deliberate massacre of 100 refugees). It is also notable that the “decent man” was the President of Israel during the Cast Lead massacre, which he supported, bitterly attacking the Goldstone report.

    The Israeli journal Davar reported that the Rabin-Peres Labor government of the early 1990s “has helped [the settlements] financially even more than the Shamir government had ever done”, enlarging them “everywhere in the West Bank, even in the most provocative spots”.

    The claim that the Oslo Peace process was meant to lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state flies in the face of the fact that the text of the Oslo agreement makes no reference whatsoever to a Palestinian right to national self-determination — a fact which is furthermore very difficult to reconcile with the claim that it had occurred to Rabin that it would be “implausible” to keep Palestinians forever stateless. If you substitute the word “stateless” for “bantustan-less”, the remark would be more on target.

    In fact, the “dedicated Socialist” never changed his basic position that “The past is immutable and the Bible is the decisive document in determining the fate of our land”.

    Prof. Cole, I am a big fan of yours, but on this point you are grossly misinformed.

    • There have been severe criticisms of Peres – especially regarding his attitude toward Operation Cast Lead while he served in the largely ceremonial role as president of the State of Israel:

      link to peace/#-V-yT2CTCfcs

  15. Growing up the narrative was anything other than a two state solution was a denial of Israel, now what is left but one state and an oppressed people.

  16. Peres was also a key player in the Suez crisis, conspiring with Britain and France to attack Egypt. Not exactly a man of peace.

  17. I have to say I did feel ill after reading this. It’s one thing to highlight a persons good points after they die, but to whitewash war crimes is really something else.

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