Peres the politician: His global stature grew

November 24, 2016 23:12

Certain statesmen bestride the world like a colossus. Nelson Mandela, Henry Kissinger, Mikhail Gorbachev and Margaret Thatcher have been examples in our own time.

Shimon Peres was one of that small pantheon.

I was fortunate in meeting him on several occasions. He was always witty as well as wise.

On one occasion, in his office in Jerusalem, we were discussing the Middle East. "You have to remember," he said, "that in our region there are two kinds of country. There are the holy lands and the oily lands". He seemed rather uncertain as to which had been more fortunate.

He once received the President of Mexico who told him that a previous 19th century Mexican President, Porfirio Diaz, had remarked that "Mexico's fate was that it was so far from God and so near the United States."

Peres responded that Israel's fate was the other way around. Israel was "so near to God and so far from the United States"

Throughout much of his career, Peres was not popular with many Israelis. While they respected his ability, he was never entirely trusted. While they accepted he was a patriot, they questioned whether he was sufficiently a nationalist. While he served in 12 Cabinets in a political career spanning over 66 years, he had only two short terms as Prime Minister.

But then in 1994 he won the Nobel Peace Prize, along with Rabin and Arafat. Like Gorbachev and Thatcher he was, probably, more admired abroad than at home.

Indeed over the last 20 years, when Israel has lost many of its friends and has suffered severe criticism for its failure to deliver an end to the occupation of the West Bank and the creation of an independent Palestine, Peres has been one of the few Israeli politicians to see his stature grow throughout the world.

He was an inspired choice as President of Israel when he was already 84. Although the President has minimal political power, over the next seven years Peres was the undisputed conscience of Israel, admired and respected throughout the world and recognized as a force for moderation and compromise.

Whenever I met Peres - the same was true of King Hussein of Jordan - I always came away more cheerful and optimistic than before.

At some time, hopefully in the not too distant future, Israelis and Palestinians will both be led by statesmen rather than politicians. If they are of the stature of Peres and Hussein, there will be a real prospect of a land flowing with milk and honey.

November 24, 2016 23:12

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