Shimon Peres knew how to dream, but his greatness was in his rare ability to turn his dreams into reality with his bare hands. Some two years ago I accompanied him when he received the United States' highest honor, the Medal of Freedom, which was granted to him by US President Barack Obama. In his speech at the ceremony, Peres talked about his dream.
"Many people call me a dreamer," he said. "I suppose that's the reason that I always felt so at home in America, the country whose history proves that humanity can dream. My first dream was to be a shepherd on a kibbutz, a dream that became reality. In the daytime I would watch the sheep, in order not to lose any of them. At night I watched the stars, in order not to miss any of them. However, the dream of a young shepherd was interrupted when David Ben-Gurion, our George Washington, called on me to serve the newborn state of the Jews."
The eyes of prime ministers and congressmen lit up as Peres continued, saying, "After the War of Independence, Ben-Gurion proposed that I go to the United States to learn English. 'Learn the American dream,' he told me, and so I did. I learned that America is not a land for the lazy. It is the home of the brave. The American dream is made up of hard work, a dreamer's spirit and an attitude that anything is possible."
This is Peres's legacy: Practical realization of dreams. Vision that enables a realistic plan. Everybody wants peace, everybody wants security, but in order to reach the goal, you need not only be brave, you also must be willing to sweat. He did this in his life. He sweat a lot: at party conventions, during political defeats, while delivering rebukes in speeches, in futile debates, in fruitless meetings, in smoky negotiation rooms, while waiting for his supporters' votes, while counting the votes of sailors and cheats. He did not wait for approval, he did not expect to get instructions, he acted, researched and established facts on the ground. In the field of defense, paving the way for weapons from France and the nuclear reactor, in the diplomatic arena, in economics and in every other thing he touched.
He allowed the young people around him to act. Peres instructed and mainly served as inspiration, providing direction. In this way he tried, and almost succeeded, to create a new reality in the Palestinian territories during the rule of Yitzhak Shamir and the London agreement (a confederation agreement with Jordan's King Hussein that was supposed to give the monarch control over and responsibility for the Palestinians, and to give them citizenship and political rights without having to evacuate Israeli settlements). Shamir exposed the covert contacts and torpedoed the agreement. It was a severe blow to Peres, but he didn't give up.
When he asked, "I'm a loser?," and was answered by calls of "Yes!," the opposite was true. A loser is someone who gives in to a loss. Peres always knew how to get up and try again. From the ashes of London rose the Oslo Accords. Two years after the political upheaval of 1992, he linked up with his sworn rival Yitzhak Rabin, and served as a gateway to a back channel adopted by Yossi Beilin in order to work with the PLO to find a solution to the Palestinian problem.
He took nothing for granted. He knew how to motivate important people, how to combine efforts, how to cut corners, how to smooth over the rough patches in order to advance. Imagine for example, a small and human matter: in his great dream to continue Rabin's path after he was killed he lost out to Benjamin Netanyahu - the inexperienced young man who was at the time just an ambassador to the UN and a deputy foreign minister. Peres went to sleep the prime minister and woke up a "loser." He was slammed from every direction for not leveraging Rabin's murder into political gain. It could have been expected that after such a bitter defeat, Peres would never again be able to turn his glance at Netanyahu. But he looked directly at him.
He advised him during the changing of the guard, as he was being replaced. He served as his confidant during his first term and in his last term. When Peres was president and Netanyahu was prime minister, he met with him and sometimes with his wife Sara for dinner, once every few weeks. He spared no effort in trying to pave the way for Netanyahu to do what he thought was the right thing. He even formulated a revolutionary peace plan, which Netanyahu stopped at the last minute.
Now we can say it: Peres formulated, during talks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, a diplomatic plan, which he thought was in keeping with the beliefs of Netanyahu and the Israeli Right. He received approval from the prime minister to explore a diplomatic option, perhaps because Netanyahu wanted to use Peres's reputation in order to preserve good relations abroad. But Peres was not lazy and would not serve just as a fig leaf. Instead he constructed a creative initiative that reached across borders.
The Peres plan constituted moving forward in stages toward a functional Palestinian state. He redefined the settlement blocs. Those that would remain in Israel - Ma'aleh Adumim. Gush Etzion and Ariel - and those that would stay in a Palestinian state - the Ofra and Beit El bloc, the Hebron and Kiryat Arba bloc, the Eli and Shiloh bloc and a few other areas of settlement. Peres secured an agreement in principle from Abbas that special IDF preparation teams and attack helicopters would serve as an immediate line of defense for the blocs that would be part of a Palestinian state with Israeli citizenship.
The details were not finalized, but the idea was not rejected. Netanyahu stopped the initiative at the last minute, when Peres was on his way to a meeting in Jordan, as Ma'ariv columnist Ben Caspit revealed. The secret plan was confirmed when Netanyahu hinted in a Channel 2 interview in 2013 that settlements could be left in a Palestinian state. The opportunity, if there ever really was one, was missed. Peres stayed home. Abbas felt he had been cheated and reneged. Netanyahu went forward with the Tony Blair initiative which turned into a dead end. Peres tried until the last minute. He never stopped dreaming. He knew from experience that the state of Israel was born and succeeded from a dream, from a vision. From an imaginative article by Herzl.
In his speech to Congress, he continued to talk about the dream. He gave a piece of advice that has not really been acted on to this point by the US administration: "I leave you with one piece of advice. It is the advice of a child who dreamed on the kibbutz and never imagined where the wonderful path of his life would take him," he said. "When Herzl said 'if you will it, it is no dream,' he was right. When I look back at the life of the state of Israel, we lived to see that our dreams were not too big, but too small. Israel achieved much more than we dreamed, and much more than we imagined.
"So I ask just one thing of America, land of dreamers: Don't dream small. You are big - dream big. And continue to work hard to make your dreams a new reality for you and for all of humanity."
That is the true legacy of Peres. That is the will that he left behind: rather than lament, lose and cry, you should dream big.
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