Shimon Peres

Fredy Winkler

Shimon Peres was the last living Israeli statesman who was part of the original founding of the nation. He spent 66 years in service to his country, practically until his death. He was born in Poland in 1923, and emigrated to Palestine at the age of 12, before the Holocaust. Ben-Gurion brought him into the inner circle in 1947, where he held a decisive position in building the Israeli army. In 1953, Ben-Gurion appointed him General Director of the Ministry of Defense. In that position, with the help of France, he modernized the army with the newest weapons. Within this relationship, the legendary nuclear center in Dimona was developed. He was elected to Parliament in 1959, and Ben-Gurion appointed him Assistant Minister of Defense.

If Peres had simply been a man of war, then he would not have risen to such a high level of international distinction, and there wouldn’t have been so many important heads of state at his funeral.

Peres once stated in an interview, “I changed, because the situation changed. When I thought that Israel was in danger, I saw it as my duty to strengthen my country. That wasn’t optional; it had to be done. I changed when I saw that we could move toward peace. War is a necessity; peace is a goal.” He spent many of his early years making Israel strong, so that it could prevail in its wars.

As Defense Minister in 1974, he was considered a hawk in the Israeli cabinet. He was prejudiced against territorial compromises and was decidedly opposed to a Palestinian state. He favored settlements, because they were the roots and the eyes of Israel. Settlements from Sinai to the Jordan Valley, he stated then, would protect the borders against attacks and fortify Jerusalem. As Defense Minister, he didn’t simply favor settlements along the borders. In the beginning, he even encouraged and supported settlements in Samaria.

After the 1984 elections, Peres was popular and loved as president in the national coalition government that formed then. When the country experienced 415% inflation, he saved the country from bankruptcy and led it to stability, growth and wealth with budgetary cutbacks. Peres was in a position to become the national savior.

Carried away by his enormous popularity, the man who once built settlements steered toward his new goal, namely peace. It was a decision that cost him every bit of his hard-won popularity. He first attempted to secretly negotiate a peace deal with King Hussein of Jordan, which would have included the Palestinian areas. King Hussein pulled out of the deal, however, because Jordan was not interested in a relationship with the West Bank.

After that, Peres lost the election in 1988 and, consequently, he also lost the chairmanship of the Labor Party to Yitzhak Rabin. The Oslo Treaty with the Palestinians and the wave of terror from the first Intifada led to an even further decline in his popularity. Although he jointly won the Nobel Peace Prize with Arafat and Rabin, he lost the 1996 election as Prime Minister against Benjamin Netanyahu.

His greatest defeat was perhaps the loss of the presidential election against Moshe Katsav in the year 2000. That changed, however, when he was elected President in 2007, at the age of 84, for a period of seven years.

Reconciled with himself and his former opponents, he was honored by everyone and recognized as “the Last Mohican” of the Zionist revolution, and as Israel’s collective “grandfather.” In the end, Peres got what he had earned but had for so long eluded him: recognition, but above all, the love of the people.

Biblically speaking, he was a tool in God’s plan to revive Israel.

In the certain knowledge that God will always find tools to fulfill His plan, Shalom!

News From Israel - 11/2016

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