A chapter in the history of Israel has come to a close as Shimon Peres, one of the last remaining founding fathers of the country, has died at the age of 93. Peres, who served twice as prime minister and once as president, suffered a stroke and, despite initially recovering, died two weeks later at a hospital in Tel Aviv. Throughout his political career Peres held a variety of significant offices and was involved at a high level in state decisions; his career highlights include being in command of the Haganah – the precursor to the Israeli Defence Forces, overseeing the establishment of the country’s secret nuclear capabilities. As defence minister, he masterminded the safe return of over one-hundred hostages in 1976 when a group of Palestinian hijackers diverted a plane en route from Israel to Uganda.
Peres also played a pivotal role in the peace efforts with Palestine, particularly in the nineties. Peres was part of the Israeli delegation that participated in the Oslo Peace Accords of 1993. As a result of the Oslo Peace Accords, Israel recognised the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) as the representative of the Palestinian people and the PLO officially acknowledged the state of Israel for the first time. The peace deal that arose from the talks led to key figures being awarded the Nobel Peace prize, an achievement Shimon Peres would share with then Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Despite of this breakthrough, Rabin would be assassinated by an Israeli extremist who did not agree with the terms in the Oslo agreements and shortly after, the deal broke down.
Peres never abandoned his stance that a two state solution was possible where both nations could live in harmony side-by-side.
Peres’ son Chemi spoke of his father, saying, “he served our people before we even had a country of our own. He worked tirelessly for Israel from the very first day of the state to the last.”
Current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described Peres as a “man of peace” who devoted himself toward reconciling with Palestinians in order to promote a better future for the children on both sides of the wall.
Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of the Palestinian Authority (PA) sent a letter of condolence to the relatives of Peres in which he expressed his sorrow.
However Hamas, the Islamist group which dominates the Gaza Strip, publically celebrated the death of the former prime minister as they cited him as “one of the last Israeli leaders of the Palestinian occupation.”
Present at Peres’ funeral, in Jerusalem, included a long list of foreign dignitaries among them: U.S. President Barack Obama, Prince Charles, PA leader Mahmoud Abbas, as well as representatives from both Egypt and Jordan, the only two of the surrounding Arab states to have signed peace treaties with Israel.
While closing the eulogies Obama spoke of ‘unfinished business’ pertaining to the peace negotiations and comparing him to some of the other ‘giants’ of the 20th Century such as Queen Elizabeth II and Nelson Mandela, whilst former U.S. president Bill Clinton described him as Israel’s ‘biggest dreamer’.