The passing of any Nobel Peace laureate should be a moment of reflection and respect. Shimon Peres, who won the award with Yasser Arafat in 1992, is no exception. Born of Polish parents his early life was greatly influenced his grandfather who schooled him in the Talmud. In 1932, with his immediate family, he migrated to Palestine (then a British Mandated Protectorate). He was very fortunate; his remaining family were murdered in the Shoah (Holocaust).
It is impossible to walk in another’s shoes. He must have been profoundly affected by the events of his early life in Poland and the subsequent fate of European Jews. He must also have been influenced by his early years in Palestine, walking and living beside Palestinians, knowing that this was at least as much their land as he dreamed it might be Jewish. He must also have been greatly influenced by the Kibbutz movement; he was one of the founders of Kibbutz Alumot. This involvement led him naturally into the Israeli Labour Party.
Peres was a polymath and a fine orator, it is little wonder he soon attracted the eye of Ben Gurion.
It is right and proper that he is praised for the leader and man that he was.
It is also right that perspective is given to his legacy and to ask why, despite his gifts and his reputation for peace, (he founded the Peres Center for Peace), the Middle East in general and Israel/Palestine in particular, seem further away than ever from this much vaunted dream, the right and desire of all human beings.
Having lived in British Mandated Palestine, he would have known many Palestinians personally and could not have helped but understand that while the 1947/48 partition was a cause of celebration for Jews, it was a catastrophe (Nakba) for hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. When one group of people gain freedom and security at the expense of another, the injustice is as palpable as it is obvious. This is perhaps at the heart of the problem. Despite his praise worthy efforts, Peres never fully recognised, at least in his public utterances, the terrible injustice that the creation of Israel had inflicted upon the Palestinian people.
He is quoted at having said:
Peace is very much like love
It is a romantic process
You have to be living it
You have to trust it
As you cannot impose love
You cannot impose peace.
These are very beautiful and quite profound words, but in the midst of them there is a gaping hole. Peace is not possible without justice. You cannot be living peace while you accept as inevitable, or acceptable, an ongoing injustice being perpetrated against those with who you wish to be in peace. I cannot take half my neighbours property, together with his access to the world outside and then say to him lets shake hands and move on. It is not possible. Peace requires that injustice to be recognised and resolved. Palestine and Palestinians are prepared to move on. They are prepared to accept that they will have right to only 22% of historic Palestine. But Israel apparently wants more – indeed many of the Knesset are on record saying they will take everything. Israel apparently wants to plant as many settlements as they like on this 22%, to take all of Jerusalem, and not allow Palestinians to be equal to Israelis.
This is of course not Peres fault. At his best he sought an outcome in which two nations, two peoples, would live side by side in mutual trust (the aspirations of the Oslo accord). Unfortunately Sharon and now Netanyahu have come to power and any semblance of justice, the fore runner to peace, has been cast aside like a rag doll.
Is it a romantic dream to believe responsible leadership of the nature of Peres or better of Rabin is still possible in Israel? Or has Israel so lost any moral compass that it is destined to the shame, distrust and hostility of the bi-nationality it has created, for the foreseeable future?