Shimon Peres, an Israeli ‘hawk-turned-dove’, dies
LONDON - Israeli leader Shimon Peres died September 28th at the age of 93. He was the last living of the three joint recipients of the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize. The other two were former Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated by a Jewish extremist in 1995, and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who died in 2004.
The three leaders became Nobel laureates for their role in the 1993 Oslo accords, which set the motions for a peace process between the Israelis and Palestinians, although 23 years later a resolution to the conflict has yet to materialise.
Peres’s funeral was attended by world leaders who heaped lavish praise on one of the founding fathers of the state of Israel. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was seated in the front row, at the request of Peres’s family.
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said Peres’s death marks “the end of the era of giants” in a reference to the country’s founders.
Two US presidents attended the funeral.
“Now he is gone, leaving only a blessed memory and a monumental example. That is more than enough,” former US president Bill Clinton, who brokered the Israeli- Palestinian deal, told mourners in Jerusalem September 30th.
US President Barack Obama took note of the presence of Abbas, which he said was “a gesture and a reminder of the unfinished business of peace”.
Obama also quoted Peres as having said that “the Jewish people weren’t born to rule another people”.
Critics of Peres point to his record in the death and displacement of thousands of Palestinians, his strengthening of the country’s military occupation, his influence in acquiring nuclear arms and his role in establishing Israel’s first settlements.
His supporters, however, point out that inside Israel you needed a man with a hawkish record to be able to push for peace. They laud his bravery, especially when taking into account that Rabin was killed by an Israeli gunman who objected to peace with the Palestinians.
Although Abbas and other Palestinian Authority officials paid tribute to Peres upon hearing of his death, most Palestinian commentators were critical of the late Israeli leader. Some go further and take aim at the Oslo accords.
“If he was committed to peace there would have been no need for Oslo, simply an implementation of UN resolutions would do,” said Kamel Hawwash, a UK-based Palestinian university professor and writer.
“Peres and other Israeli leaders perfected the art of the deception of the peace process, which has been used as cover for the entrenchment of the occupation,” added Hawwash. “In the absence of any sanctions by the international community this will continue and even accelerate.”
Ben White, a British journalist and author specialising in the Palestinian territories and Israel, agreed.
“The death of Shimon Peres should be an opportunity to critically reassess the so-called peace process he helped shape, a process that he, like Yitzhak Rabin, saw as a means to relieve the burden of occupation without realising the Palestinian people’s rights to self-determination, decolonisation and return,” he said.
Other observers, however, said the death of a statesman such as Peres leaves a void in Israel’s pro-peace camp.
“Peres will be missed. He was Israel’s voice of hope, Israel’s advocate of a two-state solution,” said Tania Ildefonso Ocampos, a Spanish political analyst who lived and studied in Israel.
“Unlike Peres, current Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu lacks the willingness to work on any peace initiative,” she added.
Ocampos pointed out the shortcomings of Peres’s vision: “His conception of peace with the Palestinians did not imply equality. The Oslo accords, which embodied Peres’s understanding of peace, also embodied Israeli economic domination of the West Bank.
“This domination has had a detrimental impact upon Palestinian development, as the latest Word Bank report shows.”
But Ocampos also said that Peres’s example is a necessary step towards an eventual comprehensive peace.
“Peres was a hawk-turned-dove, a man of war who eventually understood that the long-term security of Israel depended on peace with the Palestinians,” she said.
“Hopefully, with time, the majority of Israelis will come to understand that, in order to guarantee Israel’s long-term security, the creation of a Palestinian state is of vital importance.”