I hadn’t intended to write an R.I.P. post on him, as I didn’t have anything in particular to say. I had a generally positive view of him during the ’80s and particularly into the ’90s and Oslo, viewing him as a man of peace and all that—I was initially taken in by his overhyped vision of a “new Middle East”—but changed my view in 1996 with Operation Grapes of Wrath and the Qana massacre. I could never have sentiments of sympathy toward Shimon Peres after that—and particularly after he blew the ’96 election, turning what should have been an easy win in the aftermath of the Rabin assassination into a defeat at the hands of the ghastly Bibi Netanyahu. Grapes of Wrath was all for naught, as was the assassination of Yahya Ayyash—which Peres ordered and for manifestly electoralist reasons—which triggered the wave of Hamas revenge terror attacks, thereby causing the Israeli electorate to lurch right. Peres could have waited for a more opportune moment to give Ayyash his just desserts. Hélas.
If Peres had won the ’96 election, would the Oslo peace process have culminated in a final status agreement? Likely not. Peres did head the Israeli delegation at the Taba talks in January 2001, during which the Israelis made unprecedented concessions, but there was no follow-up and with the outlines of an agreement discussed at Taba rejected by Yasser Arafat and received coolly by Ehud Barak. The two sides were too far apart—the best deal the Israelis could have offered the Palestinians was not one they would accept—so the final status negotiations were doomed to fail, regardless of the identity of the Israeli prime minister.
In lieu of going on with my thoughts, I will link to worthwhile commentaries on Peres I’ve read over the past few days. A particularly interesting one is by Uri Avnery, “The Saga of Sisyphus,” posted on his Gush Shalom website four days before Peres’s death. Peres and Avnery were the same age—born 39 days apart—and both arrived in Israel at age 10—Avnery from Germany, Peres from Poland—and met for the first time at age 30. Avnery knew Peres well and for over sixty years. And he didn’t like him too much, though, in his telling, not many people did. Lots of good stuff in his piece.
One episode Avnery gets in to is Peres’s close relationship with France during the 1950s. This is a well-known story here, where Peres was always respected and received as a friend, and by both the left—the PS and Israeli Labor Party being fraternal members of the Socialist International—and the right. And his spoken French wasn’t bad—something that is always appreciated here—though he had forgotten how to conjugate verbs, as I noted in the early ’90s during one of his television interviews. I think he did his interviews in Hebrew after that one…
Gershom Gorenberg in The American Prospect, “The Reinventor: Which Shimon Peres will be remembered depends on what his successors do.”
Adam Garfinkle on the Foreign Policy Research Institute website, “Shimon Peres (1923-2016): A man of contradictions?”
Aaron David Miller on the CNN website, “Why Israel will miss Shimon Peres.”
And these commentaries:
Akiva Eldar in Al-Monitor’s Israel Pulse, “Fulfilling vision of Peres requires dismantling settlements.”
Lisa Goldman in +972, “The subtle nuances of Obama’s eulogy for Shimon Peres.”
Gideon Levy in Haaretz, “Shimon Peres, outsider who wanted so much to be loved.”
Leila Shahid offers a perspective from the Palestinian peace camp in an interview in L’Obs, “‘Shimon Peres a aussi contribué à tuer le camp de la paix’.” Curious view, as Shahid reproaches Peres for having abandoned the cause of peace by serving as Ariel Sharon’s foreign minister in 2001-02—during the Second Intifada, when it was precisely the Palestinians who were delivering body blows to the Israeli peace camp—and not Peres’s actions in 1996.
I haven’t yet seen any remembrances or good commentaries by French analysts or political actors. If I do, will post.
UPDATE: Hanan Ashrawi, who had ongoing dealings with Peres during the Oslo process, assesses his legacy a NYT op-ed (October 3rd), “Shimon Peres: The peacemaker who wasn’t.”