Shimon Peres: The Peacemaker Who Wasn’t
RAMALLAH, West Bank — Now that the funeral of Shimon Peres, the former Israeli president and prime minister, is over and the effusive praise of world leaders has subsided, it’s time for a critical look at his legacy. While many remember him as a courageous and tireless advocate for peace, Palestinians recall a different man — one who was very good at talking peace but not so good at walking the walk.
Much of Mr. Peres’s reputation is based on his role in the Oslo Accords. In the early 1990s, he was involved in back-channel discussions that led to the historic signing of Oslo I, also known as the Declaration of Principles, by Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization amid much fanfare on the White House lawn. In 1994, along with Yitzhak Rabin and Yasir Arafat, he was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts.
It was during this period that I first met Mr. Peres, after I helped to initiate contact between Israel and the P.L.O., along with the Israeli academics Ron Pundak and Yair Hirschfeld. As foreign minister in Mr. Rabin’s government, Mr. Peres followed up on these secret meetings, leading to Israel’s agreeing — for the first time — to negotiate with the P.L.O.
Back then, Palestinians were optimistic about a future free of Israel’s dominance. We hoped that Mr. Peres and other Israeli leaders would follow up their statements in support of peace with determined action to reach a just and lasting agreement to end the conflict. As it turned out, there was little correlation between their lofty rhetoric and their actual policies.
The promise of the Oslo peace process was never fulfilled, in large part because of the failures of Mr. Peres and the “peace camp” in Israel, but also thanks to the flaws in the Declaration of Principles itself. Because the declaration enabled Israel to act with impunity over destructive unilateral measures like settlement expansion— given the lack of will on the part of the United States to hold Israel to account — it was inevitable that a culture of hate and racism against the Palestinians would ensue.