Who really was Shimon Peres?
Shimon Peres, who served as Israeli president, prime minister and Defence minister, was depicted as a dove in favour of peace with the Palestinians. Some have even said that he strove for peace.
In reality, Peres’s nice discourse of peace with the Palestinians and cooperation with Arab countries was part of the strategy of giving cover and lustre to the Israeli occupation.
Peres, who started his long political career as head of the office of David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, died late last month at the age of 93. Despite this long career, not once was Peres able to take one step towards real peace in the Middle East.
Peres was always hesitant and deceitful. He was never able to score a decisive electoral victory when he was leading the Labour Party. He drew evenly many times with the right-wing Likud Party and was able to work out with it a formula for alternating the premiership between Likud and Labour.
He was prime minister a second time following Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination in November 1995. During that period, he fell into the trap of Operation Grapes of Wrath, unwittingly paving the way for Binyamin Netanyahu’s electoral victory in May 1996. Operation Grapes of Wrath was the code name for a small-scale military campaign against Lebanon during the premiership of Rafik Hariri.
At every major occasion, Peres remained unable to take any major and decisive steps. For example, following Rabin’s assassination he delayed general elections in Israel for six months. He did not and could not realise then that this delay was advantageous to Netanyahu, who had been implicitly in collusion with the naysayers to peace from within the Arab region and even from outside it, namely Iran. At that time, Iran was doing its best, even relying on Hamas suicide bombers, to torpedo the Oslo peace negotiations.
It is true, however, that, while he was Foreign Affairs minister in Rabin’s cabinet, Peres had been instrumental in reaching the 1993 Oslo peace agreement but it is also true that he did not know how to protect this deal through the creation of a large coalition in Israel in support of peace and by beginning the implementation of it on the ground.
The Oslo agreement died with Rabin’s assassination. It became clear down the road that Peres was not cut out to be a leader. He was excellent as second in charge but failed every time he was in charge. Under Ben Gurion and before the 1967 war, he succeeded in obtaining weapons from France and in building Israel’s nuclear programme.
He was an excellent executor but he was no more than a wolf in sheep’s clothing pretending to be working for peace.
We all remember that the 1979 peace agreement between Egypt and Israel was the result of personal determination by the late Egyptian president Anwar Sadat and Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin. A similar agreement in 1994 between Jordan and Israel was possible because both the late King Hussein and Rabin were determined to achieve it.
King Hussein had always known that, unlike Rabin, Peres was unreliable; he would say something but do the other while Rabin was a serious adversary with clear-cut opinions and positions.
Those who dealt with Peres found it difficult to trust the man. King Hussein considered him deceitful. Yasser Arafat and Peres did not take each other seriously. Peres was not worried about Hafez Assad’s regime in Syria because they both found it beneficial to maintain the status quo of no-war, no-peace in the region.
The status quo on the ground in Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Golan Heights is maintained to this day. It guarantees the continuous grip of the Syrian regime on the lives of the Syrian people even with the help of Iranian militia and the savagery of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The 1996 Qana massacre, in which more than 100 people were killed in Lebanon during Operation Grapes of Wrath, revealed Peres’s true self. He desperately wanted to win the elections in Israel even at the cost of numerous victims in Lebanon.
Peres was never a man of peace despite being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994. He firmly believed that Israel’s interest lies in maintaining Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands at all costs. In more than one international conference he declared that the West Bank was “disputed territory”.
Peres and Netanyahu were just two sides of the same coin with one difference. Unlike Netanyahu, Peres was never capable of playing politics inside Israel and winning. Since his early days in Ben Gurion’s cabinet, he always excelled in playing second fiddle but failed every time he played a leading role.