Shimon Peres: Champion of Power or Peace?
The former Israeli president and prime minister has been remembered as a peacemaker, but his biography tells a different story, says Michel Warschawski
GREG WILPERT: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Gregory Wilpert and I’m coming to you from Quito, Ecuador.
Shimon Peres died at the age of 93 on Wednesday. He was the leader of Israel’s labor party and a former president and former prime minister of Israel. Also he was one of the last surviving members of the founding generation of Israel. He’s generally remembered as a peacemaker who was one of the recipients of 1993 Nobel Peace Prize for his negotiations that led to the Oslo Accords with the Palestinians. Heads of states from around the world including President Obama and former President Bill Clinton attended the funeral services.
Joining us to talk about Shimon Peres’s life and legacy is Michel Warchawski. Michel is a journalist and writer and a founder of the alternative information center in Israel. His books include On the Border and Towards an Open Tomb: On the Crisis of Israeli Society. Thanks for being on the Real News Michel.
MICHEL WARCHAWSKI: Good evening.
WILPERT: So as I mentioned in the introduction, for the general public and other western countries, Shimon Peres is perhaps best known as being the dove and peacemaker of Israeli politics. Tell us a little bit about how he came to acquire this reputation.
WARCHAWSKI: He acquired this reputation very late. In fact, Shimon Peres was first of all the man who build the Israeli [inaud.] to be power. He was already [inaud.] in 1948 by [inaud.] to buy arms for the new Israeli state. He was in charge with the relations with his friends at the time of the French Israeli love story and according to foreign sources, he’s the one who through the French connection, established the nuclear industry and the nuclear armament that we’re not supposed to admit that it exists but according to foreign sources it exists.
So Peres is the one who build the Israeli military power. This what to remain from his story. It is true that he was the man behind Peres and what we call at that time the Peres boys where the architects of the Oslo process, the cognition of the PLO and the opening of the negotiation. Of the negotiation which was supposed to bring to reconsideration between Israeli and Palestinians through two states. But Shimon Peres was also the man who destroyed what he built with his own hands, meaning the Oslo process.
WILPERT: I want to turn to the Oslo process in a moment but so you’re saying for his participation in this negotiations he was one of the main reasons he got this reputation relatively late in life for being the peacemaker. Tell us a little more about that and then I want to turn into kind of the perspective of the Palestinians on his life. But first what did he do concretely to–what was this reputation that he was the peacemaker and the dove. How did that happen in Israeli politics?
WARCHAWSKI: Shimon Peres understood that the Palestinians were a fact. That the Palestinian existence on this land was a fact that cannot be ignored or denied anymore. He understood it meant before many other Israeli leaders and that we should try to achieve the Palestinians, based on two states, not necessarily on the basis of equality or in fact on the basis of un-equality but in order to do it to recognize the PLO and what Peres did through [inaud.] and the other Peres boys was secret negotiating with the PLO with the promise that they would be able, the leadership of the PLO and Yassir Arafat would be able to come back to Palestine and after negotiation to be at the head of an independent Palestinian state. This was the Oslo decoration of principle.
This is what he negotiated and this is what he succeed to convince Yitzhak Rabin was a prime minister at that time to accept. I think the main achievement of [inaud.] ready to convince Yitzhak Rabin was someone quite tough, very slow to understand new realities. But unlike Shimon Peres when he understood it and when he gave his word, he was sticking on it.
WILPERT: You mentioned that later in his life he undid the—he was participating in the undoing of those accords. In what way? Can you explain that a little bit more?
WARCHWASKI: Oh very simply. When Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated because he was implementing the Oslo Declaration of Principle and because he was going away which meant with [inaud.] from the West Bank and Gaza and dismantling of the settlements, Shimon Peres had the possibility as entering Prime Minister to continue the role of Yitzhak Rabin and to use a real disarray which existed among the right wing which was behind the assassination of Rabin, it was quite shocked by its own deed and didn’t believe that it would bring to the assassination of a Prime Minister.
Instead of doing that, Shimon Peres two days after the funeral of Yitzhak Rabin announced now it’s not time to renew the negotiation. It is time for national reconciliation. National reconciliation was a slogan for a whole year pushed by Shimon Peres, explaining to the Palestinians that he is sorry but now as responsible leader or Israel he has other priorities and giving to the right wing in Israel, at the moment this right wing was under shock and under disarray giving it in fact the power of veto. If we need national reconciliation, then it means that nothing can be done which will not have the okay of the right wing and the settlers meaning providing them the kind of veto on any step forward in the peace process. This was the end of the peace process launched by Yitzhak Rabin.
WILPERT: So it seems like he might have gone back and forth that is in his positions. That is in the beginning as you mentioned he was part of the building up the military of Israel and also part of the nuclear program. My understanding is that even before that he was part of the—before Israel was even founded he was part of the groups that were fighting the Palestinians at that time. Then later on he also became somebody who supported the West Bank and Gaza settlements. So is it correct to say then that he kind of had this period of being relatively militant and then goes back during the peace process, trying to find a solution and then returns to his original positions?
WARSCHAWSKI: I don’t want to make a cheap psychology but if you read the newspapers of the last couple of days around Shimon Peres, one thing is very clear. Shimon Peres wanted more than anything to be loved by the Israeli public. In fact, all his political career was trying to achieve the unachievable, being loved. He was exactly the contrary of what the Israelis like. He was not Yitzhak Rabin. He was not Yigal Allon, the fighters, the blond fighters of 1948. The one who grew in a Kibbutz. He was from a bourgeoisie urban family. He had a strong Polish accent. He was never part of the family and all his life, he tried to be accepted as part of the family and to be loved by the Israeli public. I think he achieved it a few years ago when he was already nothing politically speaking and the president of the state which mean without any political possibility to take decisions.
WILPERT: Of course among the Palestinians he was often perceived more as a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Partly because he was blamed also for the attacks on, or at least held co-responsible for the attacks on the Palestinians camps in Lebanon and Sabra and Shatila in ‘83 and the Qana attack in 96. Can you just tell us briefly a little bit about that background and what happened there and his role in those incidents, in those attacks?
WARCHAWSKI: Yea he was a wolf among the wolf and he was never a sheep but he was someone with I would say a better understanding of the international context than most of the Israeli politicians, especially [inaud.]. He not out of humanism or support for human rights and the national rights of the Palestinians. Simply out of a reading of the international map, he initiated the process of Oslo and tried to reach what he sought to be the best possible compromise that should be achieved now because tomorrow the compromise will be worse from Israeli standards.
WILPERT: Okay. Well thanks so much Michel for giving us a brief overview of the life of Shimon Peres and of course the story of Israel isn’t far from over and we’ll be coming back to you again. Thanks again for joining us.
WARCHAWSKI: Have a nice day.
WILPERT: And thank you for watching the Real News Network.
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