The response to Peres' death was not so much sadness as celebration of a long career at the highest reaches of Israeli politics..

 
Only a few outliers expressed pleasure at his passing.
 
Some expressed sadness, but that was not the prominent response. He was an old man, and seemed likely to face a crippling, debilitating and misery-provoking set of conditions if physicians had done all they could to keep him alive.
 
The international outpouring has been record-setting for Israel, comparable  only to what occurred when Yitzhak Rabin was murdered.
 
The administrative manipulations involving so many VIPs descending on a small country were mind boggling. Roads were closed, including the highway to Tel Aviv in order to accommodate US concerns for the security of The President.. Parking all the planes and limousines was a problem. The Ha'aretz cartoonist saw it as a massive jam, with bored cops comparing it with the funeral of Rabin, with one of them saying that Rabin had attracted the President of Upper Volta.
 

 
What brought all the worthies is not certain. Most likely it differed from one government to another., and were less personal than political decisions, i.e., to honor a man for how he was perceived in each setting from which leaders came.
 
How he was perceived is its own mystery, given a career of more than 60 years that included a range of key activities over the span from an aggressive posture of national defense to years of preaching a peace that never came.
 
Judging individual events within the collection is also difficult. The Oslo Agreement with the PLO was one of the icons that bears his name. And it's easy to find those who claim that Oslo was an abject failure and dangerous for Israel, along with lesser numbers who claim it was a major success that--while imperfect--has allowed Israelis and Palestinians to get along, at least with respect to the West Bank and overlooking the Second Intifada,, without a cataclysmic conflict. 
 
Oslo allowed Israel to exit from the delivery of social services and policing of Palestinian settlements, leaving the Palestinians with as much autonomy as can be found in many Third World countries. After the destructive Second Intifada and the onset of training by Jordanians and Americans, Palestinians' security forces have provided an improved measure of safety for Palestinians of the West Bank, while cooperating with Israelis against Palestinians who are enemies of both.
 
Overall Peres served less than three years on three separate occasions as Prime Minister, and is known for an unsuccessful effort at manipulation that his rival Yithak Rabin gave the label that stuck, "dirty trick"  or "smelly maneuver" (תרגיל המסריח). When Pres first ran for President he lost to a known sexual predator, later convicted for rape, under the slogan "Anybody but Peres."
 
To his credit are a number of international efforts undertaken beginning as an aide to Prime Minister David ben Gurion that brought to Israel key military equipment and the nuclear facility that is reported to have provided Israel with nuclear weapons.
 
He was also active in the creation of early post-67 settlements in the West Bank, now widely seen as impediments to the peace that he has sought.
 
His primary accomplishment in the domestic field occurred during his longest term as Prime Minister (1984-86) when he engineered a repair of a disastrous economic policy that had produced annual inflation in excess of 400 percent and projected to reach 1000 percent. Peres' government took a number of drastic steps, with local professional guidance and economic guarantees by the US government, that reduced the rate to less than 20 percent, and put the economy on track where inflation has averaged less than two percent annually since the year 2000..
 
Peres' identification with a peace platform may explain much of the international celebration of his career, but it has been more a case of advocacy than accomplishment.
 
Again, we're in the quandary of deciding if Oslo was a success or failure. And insofar as his later efforts go, he might be credited with moderating Israel's efforts in its defense, or at least coupling an aggressive mode of defense (with respect to missile attacks from Gaza and Palestinian terror) with his speaking for peace if not obtaining it.
 
Arab responses to his death are complex. Prominent individuals have decried his contribution to Israeli settlement activities in the West Bank, military operations, and a nuclear capacity, while others have praised his tireless efforts to reach accommodations. 
 
The President of the Palestine Authority (West Bank) participated in Peres' funeral, but not MKs of the Arab parties in Israel.
 
The head of the joint Arab parties in the Knesset expressed respect for the dead, and praised some of Peres' efforts, but condemned others
 
"(in the 1990s) He led the Arab population to be a legitimatepart of politics, and that is in his merit. . . .I am not part of the celebration of his history since 1948 and the nuclear reactor…I cannot be a partner to it, especially since, when he was president, he never criticized the Prime Minister…He was quiet and didn’t pursue real peace. . . . All these things, since 1948, brought disaster to my nation”
 
Events at the funeral brought criticism from Jewish as well as Arab figures.
 
Palestinians criticized Arab figures who attended the funeral, and Prime Minister Netanyahu's handshake and few words with Mahmoud Abbas produced criticism from Naftali Bennett.
 
A career of Peres' length, richness, accomplishment and frustration is a challenge to summarize. Ultimately there is no crisp way of reducing it to any scale measured from 0 to 100, or simple statements.
 
It is appropriate that almost all of the domestic comment at his death has been positive. Together with the large number of visitors from the peaks of western politics that came to Israel, this may reflect his later years as President. He did not stay away from controversial issues, but was more a national figure, as close to being above politics as ever in a career when he was often a political combatant who took no prisoners, and was not accorded grace by those who bested him.
 
Ha'aretz cartoonist summarizes the partisan nature of his career, with a portrayal of Golda Meir, Yitzhak Rabin, and David ben Gurion welcoming his to Paradise, with ben Gurion saying, "We thought that you wouldn't be coming." 
 

​Not for the Ha'aretz cartoonist is a Paradise with anything other than left of center politicians living together in apparent harmony.  Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir arguably deserve equal status as Israel's creators. Moreover, what Yitzhak Rabin said on several occasions about Shimon Peres hardly seems appropriate to peaceful residence in the same abode.
 
Yet another interpretation of all the visitors who came to pay respects may have something to do with Israel's status in the world. It is not without blemish. Many of those who came are on record as advocating harsh steps to force enough Israeli concessions to bring about accommodation with the Palestinians. Yet there is also an international reluctance to go beyond verbiage to impose sanctions despite Israeli officials' rejections of international efforts. A number of countries have taken actions against non-governmental groups that pursue economic boycotts.
 
Ultimately we do not know how much of international respect for Peres reflects the man's expressions in behalf of peace, or how much reflects assessments of Israeli moderation in its defense, how much reflects an assessment of Israeli power that might be used against efforts to impose a favored solution, and how much reflects the inability of those wanting a solution to agree on how it should be defined.
 
For those inclined to join the conversation about Shimon Peres and related matters, comments are welcome. 
 
 
שנה טובה
 
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem

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