The passing of Shimon Peres

Shimon Peres, a founding father and arguably the most prominent statesman in the nation of Israel’s recent history, is dead.  He died on September 28, 2016 at the age of 93 after 15 days in medically induced coma sequel to a serious stroke he reportedly suffered on September 13, 2016. Peres, a former  president and two-time Prime Minister of Israel, was born in Wieniawa, Poland in 1923. He migrated to Palestine with his family at age 11. Palestine was then under British control as a result of the escalation of anti-Semitic violence in Central Europe in the 1930s. That migration proved vital to the survival of the deceased and his later exploits in the politics of Israel and quest for peace in the Middle-East, as other members of his family left behind in Europe were allegedly murdered by the Nazis.

Peres started participating in activities that were to shape the yet inchoate nation of Israel very early in life. At age 15, he joined Haganah, armed underground movement under the leadership of David Ben-Gurion, formed as a counterpoise to the sniper attacks from the Arabs. Ben-Gurion was to later mentor Peres in politics. After the partitioning by the United Nations of the territory ceded to it by the British into an Arab and Jewish states in 1947 consequent on Israel’s demand for independence, Peres began to play increasingly prominent roles in the affairs of the country. He was assigned posts in military intelligence, the burgeoning Israeli Navy and arms procurement in the aftermath of declaration of war on the Republic of Israel by seven Arab States as a result of Ben-Gurion’s proclamation of the State of Israel in 1948.

Between 1952 and 1965, Peres became prominent in the political leadership of Israel. He served as the Defence Minister in 1956 and oversaw the Sinai Campaign during the Suez Crisis. The State of Israel as a nuclear power owes that status to his foresight and initiative. It was when he held forte as Defence Minister that he and Ben-Gurion discretely started the development on Israeli nuclear programme. The accomplishment  of that feat gave Israel the military edge and the staying power in the midst of its unpretentiously hostile neighbours. He co-founded the Israeli Labour Party with Ben-Gurion in 1968 following his exit from the Mapai Labour Party in 1965. Between 1969 and 1977, Peres served his country as the Immigration Minister and supervised the development of settlements in the occupied territories.

A committed democrat, Peres had his own fair share of trying experiences in politics. His first two attempts at becoming the Prime Minister of Israel were unsuccessful as he lost the two elections to Menachem Begin of the Likud party while he was the head of Labour party between 1977 and 1981. But he was undaunted. He was elected Prime Minister in 1984 under a National Unity Government in a power sharing arrangement he formed with the Likud Party. He also served as the Minister of Finance during which time he was reputed to have helped to reduce the annual inflation rate from 400 to 16 per cent!

Perhaps more than in any other area where he recorded sterling accomplishments, Peres’ global acclaim derived mainly from his unrelenting pursuit of peace, particularly in the turbulent Middle-East. For instance, while serving as Foreign Minister in the administration of Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir in 1986, Peres reportedly engaged King Hussein of Jordan in a secret peace agreement that had the potential to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But the Prime Minister rejected the pact. However, when he had another opportunity in 1992 to reinitiate and further the Peace Agreement under the Labour Party, he made the most of it. As Foreign Minister, he was credited with two monumental diplomatic successes that culminated in the Oslo Agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization and a peace treaty with Jordan. In 1996, Peres resigned from the Labour Party to establish the Peres Centre for Peace. And in 2005, he was also reported to have pitched his  tent with his old political rival, Ariel Sharon, the head of Kadima Party, just because he believed the new party offered the best chance for lasting peace with the Palestinians.

It is gladdening to note that Peres’ selfless service to his nation and the international community did not go unrecognized. He was awarded the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize which he shared with Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat, for his work on the Oslo Agreement. Peres was also a recipient of another international award in 2012 when the American president, Barack Obama, conferred on him the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his meritorious contribution to world peace.  In 2007, at the age of 84, Peres was elected the President of Israel, which many considered as the ultimate recognition for his lifelong dedication and commitment to the service of his fatherland.

Shimon Peres might not have realized the Israeli/Palestinian relations of his dream but his selfless effort at achieving that lofty objective is a challenge to politicians on both sides to make needed sacrifices for peaceful co-existence.  May his soul rest in sweet repose.