Published in partnership with Tikun Olam תיקון עולם.
You will read much hagiography in the Peres obituaries published in Israeli and world media. Here is a perfect example in the NY Times of the half-truths and undeserved admiration that is being heaped upon his memory:
He was consistent in his search for an accommodation with the Arab world, a search that in recent years left him orphaned as Israeli society lost interest, especially after the upheavals of the 2011 Arab Spring led to tumult on its borders.
This is at best only partially true. Peres was intermittent in his search for peace with the Arabs. True, in 1993, he led the effort that culminated in the Oslo Accords. But subsequent Israeli governments abandoned them and they eventually came to be discredited entirely both on the left and right.
After the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, Peres had an opportunity to call a snap election which would’ve confirmed his mandate to solidify the gains from those Accords. Instead, he temporized and waited until it was too late. By the time he called elections a year later, Palestinian militants had engineered a series of savage terror attacks inside Israel which discredited Peres’ leadership and brought Bibi Netanyahu to power for his first term as prime minister. Though there were subsequent opportunities for Israeli governments to negotiate peace deals, especially with Ehud Barak, another Labor prime minister, all of them were squandered. Regardless, Peres’ accession to the position in 1995 and the cataclysm that followed, was a pivotal moment that led to the political stagnation which has lasted ever since.
Much of what you will read about Peres is either outright false or only partially true. A certain portion of what you read may even be true. But Shimon Peres is one of those Israeli leaders like Ben Gurion, his mentor, and Ariel Sharon, who built a myth around themselves. Part political hype, part astute branding, and part a need in Israelis and the rest of the world to believe the myth they were sold of Israel as the miracle in the desert, the people which made a barren land bloom, which drained swamps and turned them into thriving kibbutzim. The little State that could.
So in assessing Peres’ legacy it’s important to keep this in mind; to separate fact from fiction; myth from reality.