2016-10-12 / Editorial

Shimon Peres, dreamer of peace, shaped modern Israel

The death of Shimon Peres at 93 indeed marks the end of an era. The last of the generation of leaders that founded Israel in 1948, Peres came of age fighting for the Jewish state’s independence. He developed and built up its strong military, paved the way for Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, but ultimately became a symbol of the elusive dream of peace and reconciliation between the Israelis and Palestinians.

Fittingly, leaders from around the world gathered in Jerusalem to pay respects to the Polish-born public servant who served as defense minister, foreign minister, prime minister and president over seven decades of public life.

More than anyone else, Peres molded the new nation’s defense industry, built up its air force, acquired its first sophisticated weapons and green-lighted its nuclear build-up. But he was most known for his role in negotiating the Oslo peace accord, for which he shared the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israel’s then- Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

Intended as a first step in a process to bring peace to the region, Oslo left the more difficult issues to be negotiated at a later date - including the status of Jerusalem and Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, the right of return for the 1948 Palestinian refugees as well as Palestinian statehood. When the process collapsed amid a wave of Palestinian terrorism and violence, Peres never gave up on the ideal.

In later years, as Israel’s largely ceremonial head of state, he was a beloved elder statesman who traveled the world promoting both Israel and his dream of peace. “Peace is costly,” CNN quoted Peres saying in 2015, at events marking the 20th anniversary of Rabin’s assassination. “Only thing is, war costs more.”

It’s hard to imagine a future without this pioneer whose accomplishments both shaped the nation’s security and kept the dream of peace alive. The Jewish people have lost a true giant. 

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