The world saw him as a friendly diplomat who called for peace and talked about the importance of the future generations in his speeches, using phrases such as “the future of our children and their children”. Well, Shimon Peres went AWOL and we can all see what became of the political “peace” project, which reinforced the dominance of the Israeli occupation over the land and destroyed the chances of the Palestinians ever having a bright future, or even a viable state.
The truth is that Israel’s occupation could not have done without a politician like Peres, who climbed the ladder to a civil role that is usually reserved for retired generals holding leadership positions. He was forced, in the autumn of his life, to take a lead on Israeli diplomacy, even when a vengeful, racist and arrogant man – Avigdor Lieberman – was the foreign minister.
Peres was keen on being seen in the corridors of power in the guise of a peacemaker and he seemed to be a political visionary who spoke about the future in the way of a dreamer. He spoke tirelessly about the culture of forgiveness and he wanted his name to be associated with peace by means of multiple acts, including an eponymous centre dedicated to peace.
However, the reality speaks another language. Shimon Peres was always an example of those Israeli officials who ignore throughout their decades in prominent positions the rights of the Palestinian people, international humanitarian law and UN resolutions. He completely disregarded the Geneva Conventions and continuously and repeatedly violated them at the cost of innocent lives and human rights.
Peres was Israel’s president – head of state – during successive military offensives against the Palestinian people, such as the so-called Operation Cast Lead (2008-2009) against the civilians of Gaza. He never shied away from the atrocities committed by the Israel Defence Forces (IDF). Indeed, he often publicised them, even at the World Economic Forum in Davos. He gave his backing to the appalling attacks on civilians, and always sought to justify them. In this, he played a part in Israel’s propaganda machine; you will not find a single example of him being critical of the violations committed by the IDF.
As prime minister, Peres ordered the invasion of Lebanon in spring 1996, which was known as Operation Grapes of Wrath, during which Israeli troops shelled a UN base at which refugees were sheltering. The bloody massacre killed 106 civilians and UN peacekeepers from Fiji, and wounded many more. Peres remained as prime minister even after the massacre for which he was ultimately responsible. This set a precedent for him to act with impunity, as was the case with his predecessors and successors. The same base was attacked by Israel a decade later.
Two years before the Qana massacre, Peres was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, but for what exactly? For his role in reaching the Oslo Accords with a weakened and exhausted Palestinian leadership. The agreement promoted slogans of peace and security, but it lacked important terms such as human rights, fairness and justice for the Palestinian people. There is no need for me to explain, today, what Israel meant by peace in this agreement, because the reality on the ground is enough to explain what ultimately resulted from the implementation of the agreement. The occupation has been entrenched even further, with ongoing settlement expansion under an Apartheid-style government. The Palestinians, meanwhile, fell for it and were trapped; Israel restrains them with Oslo’s unfair clauses.
Peres was hailed as a visionary in his view of “The New Middle East”, which was the title of his 1995 book. The idea around which his theory revolved was that the volatile region should allow Israel to act as the intelligent brain with the others following its instructions. This is basically what one can conclude given the overtones of superiority that are consistent with the logic upon which the Israeli state was founded.
After that, Peres remained an implicit partner of the extreme right-wing Israeli governments made up of ministers who adopted neo-fascist policies and positions; he acted in his capacity as Israeli president in a manner that reinforced the programmes of such governments. The “patron of peace” did not object to the expansion of illegal Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, despite international condemnation, including that from the “Quartet” – the UN, EU, US and Russian Federation.
Similarly, Peres colluded with the construction of the Apartheid Wall built by Israel on Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, despite the 2004 advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice in The Hague and the decision of the UN General Assembly (2005) against the construction of the structure. Peres also played a part in the suffocating siege, collective punishment and closure imposed on Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, despite the fact that this entails serious violations of international human rights law, the UN Charter and the logic of peace itself. All of this is just the tip of the iceberg of his support for the ethnic cleansing of Palestine throughout his long political career.
Within Israel he made no objections known to the series of racist laws introduced by the Israeli government or passed by the Knesset (parliament) since 2009. Nor did he oppose the measures to restrict independent human rights organisations and gag civil society organisations that are opposed to occupation policies and record and document Israeli government violations.
Despite all of this, Peres will be honoured after his death and will be glorified as a patron of peace. However, before believing what you see, hear or read about him in the mainstream, why not ask the Palestinians what they think about him, or the people of Lebanon? He may have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, but Shimon Peres was far from peaceful.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.