Shimon Peres: How a national hero became a tragic figure

October 14, 2016 09:58
In a sense, the fact that Peres failed to fulfill his dream of concluding lasting peace with the Palestinians made him a tragic figure. Photo: Reuters

Shimon Peres, one of the founding fathers of Israel who had served two terms as the country's prime minister and was president from 2007 to 2014, died on Sept. 28.

As a highly respected statesman and diplomat, Peres was widely regarded as a legend by his own people.

It was during his term as defense secretary that Israel became the most formidable military power in the Middle East.

Intriguingly, it was also during his term as prime minister that he actively pushed for the “new Middle East peace process” and concluded the Oslo Accord with former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, an achievement that earned Peres a Nobel Peace Prize in 1994.

Unfortunately, despite all his painstaking efforts, Peres failed to maintain lasting peace with the Palestinians.

And it was during his final years that Israeli-Palestinian relations deteriorated under the hawkish Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who had dramatically deviated from Peres's moderate policies.

In fact, Peres could have fulfilled his dream of keeping sustainable peace with the Palestinians if the Kadima, the moderate political party to which he belonged, had managed to dominate Israel's political scene.

Founded by former military strongman Ariel Sharon in 2005, the Kadima was a spin-off from the rightist and hawkish Likud party.

In favor of Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation and peaceful co-existence, Kadima's pledges to make peace attracted a lot of moderate political elites, including Peres.

However, despite having gotten off to a good start, the Kadima was thrown into disarray shortly after its founding when Sharon suddenly suffered a stroke which left him in a coma.

Under the leadership of his successor, Ehud Olmert, the Kadima won 29 seats and became the biggest party in the Israeli parliament in the 2006 election but it had to form a coalition government with other small parties since it failed to gain a clear majority.

Without a clear majority, Kadima's hands were tied.

The political influence of the Kadima saw a further decline in the 2009 election when the party's efforts to form another ruling coalition with other small parties failed, leading to the political comeback of Benjamin Netanyahu and the Likud.

Since then, public support for the Kadima has shrunk. In the 2012 election, it turned into an insignificant party that had only two seats in parliament.

In the face of Netanyahu's aggressive stance toward the Palestinians, there was nothing Peres could do, even though he was president until 2014, because under the Israeli constitution, the president is just a ceremonial figurehead.

Nor could he save his party from falling out of favor with the Israelis.

In a sense, the fact that Peres failed to fulfill his dream of concluding lasting peace with the Palestinians made him a tragic figure.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Oct. 13

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Associate professor and director of Global Studies Programme, Faculty of Social Science, at the Chinese University of Hong Kong; Lead Writer (Global) at the Hong Kong Economic Journal