Shimon Peres was a fixture in Israeli politics. His career spanned some 70 years, during which period he held, at one time or another, virtually every political office. He served as Israel’s Prime Minister on two occasions, interim PM on two other occasions, its president and also in a host of lesser political offices. In his youth, he was a protégé of the legendary David Ben Gurion, and he played an active part in Israel’s fight for independence. He was the last link to the founding fathers of the country, and his life closely paralleled that of Israel, itself.
Symon Perski was born on August 2, 1923 in Wiszniew, Poland. His father was a wealthy timber merchant; his mother was a librarian. One of his cousins was Betty Joan Persky, whom we know as Lauren Bacall. As a young boy he longed to be a shepherd or a poet, and he often displayed some talent in the latter area, but events conspired to alter those plans.
In 1934 Peres and his immediate family emigrated to Palestine, joining his father who had emigrated in 1932. It turned out to be a prescient move, since all of the family members who remained in Poland perished in the Holocaust.
In the 1940s as a member of the Haganah, led by Ben Gurion, he became heavily involved in Israel’s fight for independence. For the next 70 years he was heavily involved in Israeli politics and served the country in a plethora of ways.
Like most politicians, Peres was cognizant of the existential threat Iran represented to Israel. Taking Iranian president Ahmadinejad’s threat to “wipe Israel off the map” seriously, he compared him to Adolph Hitler, who had made similar threats in the 1930s. In 2006 he was quoted as saying that “the President of Iran should remember that Iran can also be wiped off the map.” Nevertheless, he preferred economic sanctions enforced by a coalition of nations, rather than military action.
Some of his major activities and accomplishments:
- In 1947 Ben Gurion, in anticipation of the prospective war with their Arab neighbors, tasked him with the critical responsibility of weapons procurement.
- In 1948 he was put in charge of the new nation’s navy.
- In 1954, as Director-General of the Ministry of Defense, he coordinated with Great Britain and France in planning the 1956 abortive takeover of the Suez Canal.
- He commenced his political career in 1959 when he was elected to the Knesset. As mentioned above, over the next 50 years he was a fixture in the Israeli government and held, by either appointment or election, a wide variety of political offices.
- Perhaps, the crowning achievement of his career came in 1993 when, after extensive secret negotiations with the PLO’s leader, Yassir Arafat, Israel and the PLO signed what became known as the Oslo Peace Accords. A second treaty was signed in 1995. In addition, Peres negotiated the Israel-Jordan Peace treaty in 1994. These achievements earned Peres the Nobel Peace Prize.
Peres continued to write his songs and poetry, sometimes even composing them during cabinet meetings. Perhaps, he viewed them as a diversion, as a way to relieve the various stresses he was under.
Peres’ political views and philosophy underwent a significant metamorphosis during his life. As a young man, as illustrated by his activities in the Haganah, he was a “hawk” and was strongly influenced by the likes of Ben Gurion and Dayan. Furthermore, in the 1970s he was a strong advocate of establishing settlements on the West Bank, which was considered, by many, to be an overly aggressive provocation.
However, later in life he became more of a “dove.” He became a strong advocate of negotiation and economic cooperation (as evidenced by the abovementioned treaties he negotiated). Moreover, he spoke out in favor of “territorial compromise” vis a vis the West Bank and Gaza.
On September 13 Peres suffered what his doctors called “a massive stroke.” He died on September 28. He will be sorely missed. May he rest in peace.