Shimon Peres, an Israeli ‘hawk-turned-dove’, dies

Sunday 02/10/2016
Abbas was seated in front row, at request of Peres’s family

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.”