Medical Tuesday Blog
Intriguing for peace
HE OUTLIVED all his country’s other founding fathers, but failed in what he most yearned for: to lead it into a lasting peace. Missed opportunities dogged Shimon Peres’s career. He gained the highest offices—prime minister, twice, and president—but the political arithmetic invariably went against him. His forte was foreign policy, but his political nemesis, Menachem Begin, signed the peace treaty with Egypt in 1979, and his arch-rival, Yitzhak Rabin, got most of the plaudits for Israel’s deal in 1993 with the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat.
Mr Peres’s imprint was lasting, nonetheless. As a precocious young civil servant, he brokered arms deals which helped his uniformed counterparts to get the weapons they needed. He circumvented arms embargoes with creative ruses, such as buying warplanes as, purportedly, film props, and cannily found leaky frigates and rusty tanks in places where they were no longer needed. He bargained hard, shaming rich countries for charging full price to tiny, beleaguered Israel, and cajoling rich sympathisers. It meant breaking a lot of rules. Jimmy Hoffa, boss of America’s Teamsters union, became a friend, and Israel’s rapprochement with West Germany was cemented with marathon drinking sessions with the arch-conservative Bavarian, Franz-Josef Strauss.
Perhaps his greatest achievement in this sphere was a secret deal with France which laid the foundations for Israel’s never-avowed nuclear arsenal. Only this year did Mr Peres obliquely acknowledge it, saying that it made the Arabs realise that the Jewish state couldn’t be obliterated, thus laying the foundations for at least a partial peace. “There are two things that cannot be made without closing your eyes,” he told the New York Times in 2013: “love and peace. If you try to make them with open eyes, you won’t get anywhere.” . . .
His best election result was a stalemate in 1984, which led to a two-year rotation of the top job with Yitzhak Shamir, the Likud leader. Labour did win in 1992, but under Rabin. Two years later he shared the Nobel peace prize with Rabin and Arafat: respected abroad, still unpopular at home. He returned to office on a wave of emotion after the assassination of Rabin in 1995. But his chance to achieve peace with the Palestinians was blown away by a spate of Islamist suicide-bombings and by Israel’s war in Lebanon. He was narrowly defeated by Binyamin Netanyahu in 1996.
A new generation of Labour leaders tried, unsuccessfully, to force him to retire. Instead, on his second attempt and at 83, he became Israel’s largely ceremonial president. As head of state he was muzzled, forced in public to back Mr Netanyahu and defend his policies abroad; yet he conspired with the intelligence services to block the plans to attack Iran’s nuclear installations. Once more, the intriguer tirelessly intrigued. His doings seemed remarkably public, immediately posted on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram by his almost entirely female staff (males, he had found, betrayed him). Undoubtedly, other exploits will remain untold for years.
Read the entire obituary at http://www.economist.com/sections/obituary