Shimon Peres will be remembered by Palestinians for more than peacemaking
Shortly after former Israeli president Shimon Peres died in a Tel Aviv hospital after suffering a stroke, tributes from world leaders and officials poured in, mainly mourning a man who spent most of his life dedicated to peace.
British Prime Minister Theresa May called him a “visionary and courageous statesman, who worked tirelessly for peace”. US President Barack Obama praised him as not only a “soldier for justice” but also as “the essence of Israel”.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon described the 93-year-old politician, who died September 28th, as “an optimist about the prospects for peace and reconciliation”.
The word “peace” is never far from many of the tributes, ranging from Britain’s Prince Charles to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, to former US presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. And for a man who later built and encouraged his legacy as a peacenik (and who had even established a peace centre under his namesake), the reality could not be further from the truth.
Many media outlets described Peres as one of the last founding fathers of Israel yet did not delve much into the mostly one-sided violence that resulted in the birth of the country that culminated into one of the world’s largest refugee population today.
While it is true that Peres did not have an outstanding or illustrious career on the front lines in the military, he was a member of the Haganah militia, the predecessor to the Israeli army. The Haganah, along with the Irgun and Stern Gang militias, carried out massacres and forced displacements of Palestinian villagers ahead of Israel’s establishment in 1948.
After the 1967 Six-Day war, which saw Israel occupy East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Peres championed the cause for settlement-building in the occupied territories.
Today, there are more than 500,000 settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, located in more than 180 settlements and outposts that represent a permanent obstacle to any notion of a two-state solution.
Yet, ironically, “peace” is what Peres is best remembered for in the international community.
After months of secret negotiations with the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), the 1993 Oslo accords were signed that heralded the formation of an interim Palestinian Authority government that would after five years get its own state. Peres, then Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO chief Yasser Arafat received the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize.
It is no secret that the accords marketed to the world as a historic agreement based on moderate territorial exchanges and mutual economic and security agreements proved to be disastrous for Palestinians, who are reaping the effects to this day with no tangible control over the aforementioned factors. Many have come to regard the Palestinian Authority (PA) as not only a corrupt, donor-dependent government but also as a subcontractor for Israel’s continued occupation.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas, whose authority owes much to the Oslo accords, commended Peres as a “partner in making the brave peace with the martyr Yasser Arafat and prime minister Rabin”.
The Palestinian leader expressed “sorrow and sadness” over the death of Peres, who “exerted persistent efforts to reach a just peace from the [1993 Oslo peace talks] until the final moments of his life.”
Abbas’s diplomatic adviser Majdi al-Khalidi told The Jerusalem Post: “Shimon Peres was a man of peace who worked with the Palestinian leadership to achieve peace agreements,” adding that his death is a great loss for humanity and the region.
For many Palestinians, however, Peres will be remembered for a number of unsavoury ways that decidedly have nothing to do with peace. The 1996 Qana massacre in which 106 Lebanese civilians sheltering at a UN base were killed by Israeli warplanes was ordered by Peres as part of Operation Grapes of Wrath.
In the second intifada, Peres in his capacity as Foreign minister, together with the Israeli prime minister at the time, Ariel Sharon, and Defence minister Benjamin BenEliezer, authorised planes to drop 1-tonne bombs on PA targets in Gaza City and the West Bank cities of Nablus, Tulkarem and Ramallah..
And lastly, it should be remembered that Peres’ seven-year presidency oversaw three invasions on Gazain which thousands of Palestinian died before he retired his position in the middle of Israel’s summer 2014 incursion on the coastal enclave.
Shimon Peres was no peace dove. He was a calculating, shrewd man, driven to protect Israel’s identity as a Jewish state at the expense of Palestinian lives.