Shimon Peres, former Israeli FM, PM and President, died at the age of 93. He was undoubtedly a great leader who made his mark on Israeli history. But, I for one am somewhat ambivalent about his legacy.
Early on he was an aide to David Ben Gurion and helped to organize the acquisition of arms for the nascent Israeli armed forces. He subsequently became the initiator of the Israeli nuclear industry that supposedly developed nuclear weapons (although this has never been officially acknowledged). He was also responsible for the decision to rescue the Israeli hostages in Entebbe. He was also one of the early supporters of the settler-movement in the West Bank. He and Yitzhak Rabin were contemporaries and fierce rivals for the mantle of Ben Gurion in the Israeli Labour Party. Of the two, Rabin was the more forceful and the more effective and he eclipsed Peres. Peres never won an election as leader of the Labour Party. As Peres aged he became more dovish and took the role of the peacemaker with the Palestinians within the Labour Party.
FM Peres was responsible with his aide Yossi Beilin for the negotiations that led to the historic signing of the Oslo Accords by PM Rabin’s Labour Govt. in 1993. For this Peres won the Nobel Peace Prize with Arafat in 1994. Later it was revealed that Beilin and Peres had deliberately misled Rabin during the negotiations. Beilin was reported to have said “the less Rabin knows the better.” But, Rabin was considered the leader of the peace process, even though he was in fact much more hawkish. It was the Oslo Accords that led to Israeli withdrawal from parts of the West Bank and the formation of the Palestine Authority and eventually to Rabin’s assassination by a Jewish extremist.
But, the Oslo Accords were ultimately a failure, because Yasir Arafat had no intention of accepting the Israeli presence in any part of “Palestine” and he then unleashed the terrorism of the Second Intifada (2000-2003) that took hundreds of Israeli lives in suicide bombings. Shimon Peres was responsible for this huge error in Israeli policy and for the hundreds of lives lost. He countered by saying that the casualties would have been worse without the Oslo Accords, which is clearly an unknown supposition.
By out-living Rabin and remaining on the political stage for as long as he did, Peres was appointed President of Israel in 2007 and served until 2014. In this position he performed an important role representing Israel, while the Likud Government of PM Netanyahu was not as well-liked on the world stage. Peres will also be remembered as a guru of innovation, always pushing the boundaries of technology and development. He was one of the last of the original leaders of the State and as such his contributions will forever be remembered.