Is­rael mourns as prepa­ra­tions be­gin for Peres’ fu­neral

Malta Independent - - NEWS - Aron Heller

Is­rael yesterday mourned the death of Shi­mon Peres, a former pres­i­dent and prime min­is­ter whose life story mir­rored that of the Jewish state, as the gov­ern­ment be­gan prepa­ra­tions for a fu­neral that is ex­pected to bring to­gether an ar­ray of world lead­ers and in­ter­na­tional dig­ni­taries.

Peres, cel­e­brated around the world as a No­bel Prize-win­ning vi­sion­ary who pushed his coun­try to­ward peace dur­ing a re­mark­able seven-decade ca­reer, died early yesterday from com­pli­ca­tions from a stroke. He was 93.

News of Peres’ death was met with an out­pour­ing of trib­utes from around the world.

“There are few peo­ple who we share this world with, who change the course of hu­man his­tory, not just through their role in hu­man events, but be­cause they ex­pand our moral imag­i­na­tion and force us to ex­pect more of our­selves. My friend Shi­mon was one of those peo­ple,” said US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama.

Obama was among a list of lead­ers ten­ta­tively ex­pected at Peres’ fu­neral in Jerusalem on Fri­day. Af­ter ear­lier say­ing that Obama and Hil­lary Clin­ton would be at­tend­ing, spokesman Em­manuel Nahshon said there was “no def­i­nite an­swer.” Ear­lier, the min­istry also back­tracked on a claim that the pope would be com­ing.

De­spite the con­fu­sion, a high­pow­ered group of world lead­ers, in­clud­ing French Pres­i­dent Fran­cois Hol­lande, was ex­pected for what would be the largest such gath­er­ing in Is­rael since the fu­neral of Prime Min­is­ter Yitzhak Rabin, who was as­sas­si­nated by a Jewish ul­tra­na­tion­al­ist in 1995.

Of­fi­cials said Peres’ body would lie in state at the Knes­set, or par­lia­ment, to­day to al­low the pub­lic to pay fi­nal re­spects. His fu­neral will take place at Mount Herzl, the coun­try’s na­tional ceme­tery in Jerusalem. Yona Bar­tal, a former per­sonal aide to Peres, said the ar­range­ments were in line with his wishes.

Peres’ son, Chemi, con­firmed his death yesterday morn­ing to re­porters gath­ered at the hospi­tal where Peres had been treated since suf­fer­ing a stroke on 13 Septem­ber.

“Our fa­ther’s legacy has al­ways been to look to to­mor­row,” he said. “We were priv­i­leged to be part of his pri­vate fam­ily, but to­day we sense that the en­tire na­tion of Is­rael and the global com­mu­nity share this great loss. We share this pain to­gether.”

Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu con­vened his Cab­i­net for a spe­cial meet­ing, where he praised Peres de­spite their deep ide­o­log­i­cal differences. “Shi­mon de­voted his life to our na­tion and to the pur­suit of peace,” he said. “As Is­rael’s pres­i­dent, Shi­mon did so much to unite the na­tion. And the na­tion loved him for it.”

Bill Clin­ton and Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee Hil­lary Clin­ton said they “lost a true and treasured friend.” Clin­ton was pres­i­dent when Peres helped ne­go­ti­ate a his­toric in­terim peace agree­ment with the Pales­tini­ans in 1993.

Former Pres­i­dents Ge­orge H.W. Bush and Ge­orge W. Bush also is­sued state­ments of mourn­ing.

Pales­tinian Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ab­bas is­sued a state­ment ex­press­ing his “sor­row and sad­ness” over Peres’ death.

He called Peres “a part­ner in mak­ing the peace of the brave” with the late Pales­tinian leader Yasser Arafat and Rabin. All three men shared the 1994 No­bel Peace Prize for ne­go­ti­at­ing the Oslo in­terim peace ac­cord, which Ab­bas helped ne­go­ti­ate.

“He ex­erted per­sis­tent ef­forts to reach a just peace from the Oslo agree­ment un­til the fi­nal mo­ments of his life,” Ab­bas said.

While Western lead­ers li­onised Peres, he had a mixed legacy with the Pales­tini­ans, who ap­pre­ci­ated his stated com­mit­ment to peace but held him re­spon­si­ble for a deadly ar­tillery strike that killed dozens of civil­ians in Le­banon while he was prime min­is­ter in 1996.

Peres, like other Is­raeli lead­ers, also al­lowed set­tle­ment con­struc­tion to take place dur­ing his years in lead­er­ship po­si­tions.

In the Gaza Strip, the rul­ing Ha­mas mil­i­tant group called Peres “the last re­main­ing Is­raeli of­fi­cial who founded the oc­cu­pa­tion.”

“His death is the end of a phase in the his­tory of this oc­cu­pa­tion and the be­gin­ning of a new phase of weak­ness,” said Sami Abu Zuhri, a spokesman for the group.

There was lit­tle of­fi­cial re­ac­tion from elsewhere in the Arab world.

At home, Peres was the el­der states­man of Is­raeli pol­i­tics, one of the coun­try’s most ad­mired lead­ers and the last sur­viv­ing link to its found­ing fa­thers.

In an un­prece­dented seven-decade po­lit­i­cal ca­reer, Peres filled nearly ev­ery po­si­tion in Is­raeli pub­lic life and was cred­ited with lead­ing the coun­try through some of its most defin­ing mo­ments, from creat­ing what is be­lieved to be a nu­clear arse­nal in the 1950s, to dis­en­tan­gling its troops from Le­banon and res­cu­ing its econ­omy from triple-digit in­fla­tion in the 1980s, to guid­ing a skep­ti­cal na­tion into peace talks with the Pales­tini­ans in the 1990s.

Shi­mon Per­ski was born on 2 Au­gust 1923, in Vish­neva, then part of Poland. He moved to prestate Pales­tine in 1934 with his im­me­di­ate fam­ily.

His other rel­a­tives stayed be­hind and per­ished in the Holo­caust. Ris­ing quickly through La­bor Party ranks, he be­came a top aide to David Ben-Gu­rion, Is­rael’s first prime min­is­ter and a man Peres once called “the great­est Jew of our time.”

As pro­tégé of Ben-Gu­rion, Peres led the De­fense Min­istry in his 20s and spear­headed the de­vel­op­ment of Is­rael’s nu­clear pro­gram.

He was first elected to par­lia­ment in 1959 and later held ev­ery ma­jor Cab­i­net post — in­clud­ing de­fence, fi­nance and for­eign af­fairs — and served three brief stints as prime min­is­ter.

And yet, for much of his po­lit­i­cal ca­reer he could not par­lay his in­ter­na­tional pres­tige into suc­cess in Is­raeli pol­i­tics, where he was branded by many as both a utopian dreamer and po­lit­i­cal schemer. He suf­fered a string of elec­toral de­feats: com­pet­ing in five gen­eral elec­tions seek­ing the prime min­is­ter’s spot, he lost four and tied one.

He fi­nally se­cured the pub­lic ado­ra­tion that had long eluded him when he was cho­sen by par­lia­ment to a seven-year term as Is­rael’s cer­e­mo­nial pres­i­dent in 2007, tak­ing the role of el­der states­man.

Peres was cel­e­brated by doves and vil­i­fied by hawks for ad­vo­cat­ing far-reach­ing Is­raeli com­pro­mises for peace even be­fore he ne­go­ti­ated the 1993 ac­cord with the Pales­tini­ans that set into mo­tion a par­ti­tion plan that gave them limited self-rule. That was fol­lowed by a peace ac­cord with neigh­bour­ing Jor­dan.

But af­ter a fate­ful six-month pe­riod in 1995-96 that in­cluded Rabin’s as­sas­si­na­tion, a spate of Pales­tinian sui­cide bomb­ings and Peres’ own elec­tion loss to the more con­ser­va­tive Ne­tanyahu, the prospects for peace be­gan to evap­o­rate.

Rel­e­gated to the po­lit­i­cal wilder­ness, he cre­ated his non-gov­ern­men­tal Peres Cen­ter for Peace that raised funds for co­op­er­a­tion and de­vel­op­ment projects in­volv­ing Is­rael, the Pales­tini­ans and Arab na­tions. He re­turned to it at age 91 when he com­pleted his term as pres­i­dent.

De­spite con­tin­ued waves of vi­o­lence that pushed the Is­raeli po­lit­i­cal map to the right, the con­cept of a Pales­tinian state next to Is­rael be­came main­stream Is­raeli pol­icy many years af­ter Peres ad­vo­cated it.

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