Shimon Peres, who just passed away, at the age of 93, devoted all his life to the service of Israel. During that long and remarkable career, the security and the development of the Jewish State have been his main goals. But his perception of priorities has clearly changed over time. A “hawk“ in his youth, he became later on in life a fighter for peace.
Shimon Peres spent his early career working for the national defence because David Ben Gourion had entrusted foreground responsibilities to him. Even before the creation of the State, this young man aged 24, arrived 13 years earlier from Poland, was in charge of arms purchases for the Hagana. Six years later, he became Director General for the Ministry of Defence. In 1959, at the age of 35, he became a politician and joined the government as a Deputy Minister for Defence.
During that period, Shimon Peres initiated and managed major projects for the security of the country, and developed the Israeli nuclear capacity with the Dimona nuclear plant.
Peres served as Minister of Defence in Itzhak Rabin’s first government (1974-1977). In December 1975, he allowed the creation of the first Israeli settlement in the West Bank, and 30 families belonging to the religious nationalist movement settle in a military basis close th the city of Nablus. The settlements of Elon More and Kedumim were thus founded. Later on, Ofra and Ariel benefited also from the aid of Shimon Peres. He later came to regret this decision, saying he had underestimated the settlers’ commitment to make the occupation irreversible.
At that time, the Israeli colonization was in fact a peripheral phenomenon in the West Bank since, as a result of a lack of a comprehensive political settlement, Israel wanted to maintain the territories under its effective military control. The founding of Jewish settlements in the West Bank really took off in 1977, after the Likud came to power.
Appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs in April 1987, in a coalition governement led by Prime Minister Itzhak Shamir, (Likud), Shimon Peres met in London the King Hussein of Jordan and developed with him a project for a Peace Conference. If they had achieved this goal, The Palestinian issue would have been solved in a Jordanian-Palestinian context. But Itzhak Shamir vetoed this agreement and a year later, King Hussein declared he accepted no responsibility at all with regard to the future of the West Bank. From now on, the only petential partner was Yasser Arafat.
After the Labor Party victory in May 1992, Simon Peres was once again appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs, in a government led by Itzhak Rabin. Yossi Beilin, his Deputy Minister, launched the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations that would lead to the Oslo Accords in 1993. For the proponents of the settlements, Shimon Peres became—like Itzhak Rabin—an enemy to fight at all costs.
Peres said later that if he had to summarize his political career, he would simply say: “From Dimona to Oslo“. In other terms: the nuclear capacity Israel was supposed to have had a deterrent effect on those who hoped to destroy the State of Israel, and made possible peace agreements in conformity with the fundamental interests of Israel. The military power was not a goal in itself, but a way of assuring a better future to the peoples in he region—and first of all to Israel. In this way, the conclusion of treaties of good neighbouriness reinforced security, since a kind of peace based only on deterrence would eventually be delusive.
Over time, with the strengthening of the Zionist project thanks to the National Defence and to the economic development, Shimon Peres understood that the conditions were ideal for the implementation of a project even more ambitious: the integration of the Jewish State in its environment, through the conclusion of peace accords with the neighbouring countries and the search for a solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Laureate of the Peace Nobel Prize in 1994, with Itzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat, Shimon Peres devoted then most of his time—partly through the Peres Center for Peace—to the development of dialogue and cooperation between peoples. His commitment to peace and to the development of the region, where he dreamt of building “a new Middle-East“, contributed to give him the high profile of an international statesman respected by all. Elected President of the State of Israel in 2007, he won the affection of the Israeli population, from both the right and the left, and gained the ear of the youth who considered him like an old sage expert in new technologies, omnipresent on social networks.
On May 5th, 2014, at the end of his seven-year term as President of the State, Shimon Peres gave to the English-language daily The Times of Israel a long interview in which he presented his conception of the world: “You can talk of peace in two ways. You can take the negative approach: what will happen if there’s no peace? Or you take the positive approach: what will unfold if there is peace? Personally I tend to stress the positive approach: What will peace bring — for Arabs, Jews and for the Middle East. (…) I believe that through good will and generosity, although not without strength, you can achieve peace, and by wrong policies you can postpone it. And, by the way, in order to achieve peace, the first party you have to convince is your own party.”
In these unstable and dark times, we miss already his eternal optimism, his will to fight in order to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and to find a peace agreement between Israel and the Arab world.
We grieve for and with Shimon Peres’s family, for and with all the people of Israel. And on this new year’s eve, we wish them and we wish our friends in France and in the world: “may this year and its maledictions end, and a new year and its blessings begin”. And above all the supreme blessing for all peoples: the blessing of peace.