Three years ago was the last time I had the privilege to visit with Shimon Peres. We remember President Peres at this time as the last of Israel’s elder statesmen, present at the State’s founding and one of the country’s most admired personalities. Peres’ political career was not smooth, nor was he overly popular during his two terms as Prime Minister.
Over a seven-decade career, the elder statesman of Israeli politics held virtually every senior political office including Prime Minister twice and extended terms as foreign, defense and finance minister. He won the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize for his work in reaching an interim peace agreement with the Palestinians.
Three years ago, then at 90 years of age, Shimon Peres was as wise and insightful as any leader on the world stage. Mr. Peres understood the world we live in like few others. Shimon Peres believed that poverty and violence, call it terror if you wish, are the systemic source of all that troubles the Middle East and the world. Deeply sad about this, President Peres recognized that it didn’t have be this way. He firmly believed that Israel has much to offer in resource and example, if only other countries and political ideologies decide they want it to be different.
In his book about Israel’s Prime Ministers, the late Ambassador Yehuda Avner tells this story. As Prime Minister, Shimon Peres traveled to London where Prince Charles and Princess Diana hosted a luncheon in his honor.
“Mr. Peres, I always think of Israel as a plucky little country,” said Diana, resting her chin on her hand, a bemused smile on her lips.
“That’s kind of you to say so,” said Peres.
“Well, as for me, Prime Minister,” brooded Charles, “I always find the Middle East so full of impenetrable intricacies. Do you think a day will ever come when you and your neighbors will get along together?”
“One day,” said Peres wistfully. And then poetically, as was his wont, “One must remember, just as a bird cannot fly with one wing and a man cannot applaud with one hand, so a country cannot make peace just with one side, with itself.”
As this quaint story illustrates, the Polish born Israeli leader Shimon Peres lived his life as a realist and an optimist. Still, in his final years after a long career serving the State of Israel in every possible way, as Israel’s ninth President from 2007 through 2014, Peres looked to the future not to the past. He remained faithful to the dream and vision of Israel’s founders and to their founding ideals.
Shimon Peres believed Israeli society would continue to evolve and that someday peace would come in spite of every difficult geo-political reality. When I was with him, Shimon Peres smiled as he remembered those who told David Ben Gurion back in 1948 that the world would not recognize the establishment of the State of Israel. Yet, at the end of his life, Mr. Peres marveled with great pride at Israel’s dynamic and thriving reality.
May Shimon Peres’ memory continue to inspire his dream and may his legacy grow from its fulfillment.