A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Last of the Founders: Shimon Peres (1923-2016)

One of the last survivors of Israel's founding generation, Shimon Peres has died at age 93, two weeks after suffering a massive stroke. Peres held almost every senior position imaginable in a life that paralleled the life of Israel: Defense Minister, Finance Minister, Foreign Minister, Prime Minister (twice, or three times if you count a brief stint as Acting PM in 1977) and finally the most politically outspoken holder of the usual ceremonial post of President, a job he held until 2014. Born in 1923 in what was then Poland and is now Belarus, he was likely one of the last senior Israeli figures born in pre-WWII Eastern Europe.

There's little point in retracing all the details of a long and very politically active life. Everyone will be doing that today. Let me touch on the salient points. A key protégé of David Ben-Gurion, he followed the "old man" out of the Mapai (later Labor) Party to found Rafi, and returned when BG did.

He would be the rare Israeli Defense Ministers never to have served on the IDF or one of the pre-state military organizations. Like a later exception to the rule, Moshe Arens, he made his name in the civilian side of the defense establishment. In Peres' case, he created it. As Director-General of the Defense Ministry in the 1950s, the post in charge of defense production, he was the architect of Israel's defense relations with France, and the father of Israel's domestic defense industrial sector, today one of the most robust in the world. In the same period, he also served as the father of Israel's nuclear program.

1994 Nobel Peace Prize
Peres' terms as Prime Minister (1984-1986 in rotation with Yitzhak Shamir and 1995-1996 after the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin) were in neither case elections in his own right. In the 1990s, as Foreign Minister under Rabin, he was involved in negotiating the Oslo Accords and shared the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize with Rabin and Yasir ‘Arafat.

In his last decades Peres was a strong supporter of a two-state solution and what he referred to as a "New Middle East": he would not live to see it. But he made the usually ceremonially role of President an advocate for peace, despite inevitable friction with Prime Minister Netanyahu. I think he will be missed.


Anonymous said...

And now for a contrary view http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/09/29/the-butcher-of-qana-shimon-peres-was-no-peacemaker/

David Mack said...

Yes, he was a complicated man. For my own view and that of two other Middle East Institute Scholars, see www.mei.edu.

Michael Collins Dunn said...

He had plenty of negatives on his balance sheet, but de mortuis nil nisi bono.