I first met Ron Pundak at the airport of Copenhagen – the home city of his father – on May 20th 1993. I was director- general of the Foreign Ministry at the time, and had been dispatched by then-foreign minister Shimon Peres to a first meeting with the PLO in Oslo.
Ron was due to brief me on his previous talks with the Palestinians in Oslo, which had lasted for a half year in a secret back channel. He told me about the important progress made negotiating an autonomy agreement, starting with Gaza and Jericho. He also recounted that he and Prof. Yair Hirschfeld had, under the auspices of the Norwegian foreign minister, developed a common language with the PLO chief negotiator Abu Ala.
Ron seemed worried that I, a civil servant in the service of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and Peres, would take too harsh a position and attitude. He said the talks were difficult, but that it was clear that the Palestinians had arrived with the hope to put an end to the conflict. He tried to convince me that besides the formal instructions we had from our superiors, we had to create a common language of humanity with our counterparts. He looked at me somewhat skeptically through his John Lennon- like eyeglasses and said: “I have two pieces of advice to give you, be courageous and be… a mensch.”
He strongly believed that Israel had to make courageous decisions in order to create a two state solution to the conflict, based on our security needs and on equality.
Indeed, Ron was what he preached: courageous and utterly human. He was a fervent patriot and Zionist; an unconventional thinker, never afraid to state his views. A true pioneer for peace.
The views he espoused 21 years ago – in favor of a two state solution – are now the views of the majority in Israel, including the current prime minister.
His attitude, of courage and humanity, though, are not. In recent years, during his time as director-general of the Peres Center and the Peace Forum, he grew increasingly worried. He thought that the lack of political courage and morality may reduce us into a forming binational state in perpetual conflict.
It was his attitude that the Israel of today lacks – the courage to do the right thing and the belief in the moral high ground. This unique peace pioneer will be missed.
We are poorer without him.Uri Savir is Honorary President of the Peres Center for Peace and served as Israel’s chief negotiator for the Oslo Accords.