Shimon Pere’s life is the story of a nation. In every major event that occurred throughout the State of Israel’s 68 years, Peres was there, playing a leading role.
At the establishment of the state in 1948, he served as an aide to David Ben-Gurion. In 1956, he crafted the Kadesh operation during the Suez Crisis and got Israel a nuclear reactor from France in return. He later was the brains behind the 1976 Entebbe rescue operation and the mastermind of the 1990s Oslo Accords. The list goes on and on.
Despite his achievements and contribution to Israel and particularly to its military strength, Peres was at times a divisive and controversial figure. His political career had its ups and downs and he was not always liked. All of that changed though when he became president. The people suddenly adored and respected him. Foreign leaders, Hollywood stars and opinion-makers flocked to meet him, to bask in his presence and receive even just a few words of wise counsel.
The list of dignitaries expected to come to his funeral on Friday is a demonstration of this admiration.
US President Barack Obama, Britain’s Prince Charles, German President Joachim Gauck, French President François Hollande and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau are just a handful of the leaders scheduled to attend.
While summing up Peres’s life is difficult, two features stand out and are worth highlighting today, before he is interred on Mount Herzl.
The first was Peres’s eternal pursuit for peace. While many Israelis believe Peres was naïve in his attempt to reach peace with the Palestinians – something not yet achieved – his efforts were symbolic of what the Jewish people genuinely stands for – scholarship, peace and innovation.
The second feature was Peres’s constant race to the future. He loved to dream about what it would look like and how Israel could contribute to making it a better place. Just recently, he would enthrall visitors for hours with stories of nanotechnology and the study of the brain.
Peres was the epitome of Start-Up Nation. He helped brand it, represented it and did everything he could to advance the country and its tech sector.
In his last Facebook video, posted on September 13, the day he suffered the stroke that ultimately killed him, Peres called on Israelis to buy blue-and-white products.
“Not because is the patriotic thing to do,” he said.
“Because they are better products.”
For Peres’s legacy to truly live on, Israelis need to embrace these two characteristics that featured prominently in the statesman’s life – the pursuit of peace and the desire for a better future.
While Peres did not get to see the new Middle East he yearned for, Israel can pick up the reins in his absence. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu invited Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to address the Knesset last week in his speech to the United Nations. Now is the time to take steps to see that happen.
Peres believed that Israel’s real history is the “history of the future.” He recognized that peace was hard to attain mostly because war comes more natural to man. War has inertia, he wrote in an op-ed in The Jerusalem Post in July, is familiar and therefore, is remembered. Peace, on the other hand, cannot fly on its own. It needs active energy.
Peres will be remembered as one of Israel’s giants.
His ability to dream, to fantasize and at the same time to get his hands dirty in building a state and a nation made him one of the nation’s greatest leaders.
“The past is frozen. It therefore has no creative power. The future will not exist unless we create it. We therefore must work for it. In the Middle East and across the globe, we have begun to leave the Stone Age and enter into the Age of Wisdom. The more we are able to free ourselves of the past and penetrate into the future, the more we will offer peace and prosperity to our daughters and sons following us,” he wrote in July.
That is Peres’s legacy.