Drop the farcical obits, Shimon Peres was no peacemaker

The Palestinian leadership’s biggest failure was trusting the likes of Shimon Peres.

People place flowers on a picture of the late Shimon Peres [EPA]
People place flowers on a picture of the late Shimon Peres [EPA]

It is infuriating to read, listen and watch the western coverage of the death of former Israeli prime minister and president, Shimon Peres.

As leaders and representatives of the “peace process” industry express sadness, as they pay their final respects to one of their own, a fanciful and farcical narrative about the “tireless peacemaker”, the “political philosopher”, and a “brave statesman” has dominated the airwaves and the newspapers.

I get the idea that when paying one’s “respects” to the dead one needs to be positive, and well, respectful. But that’s not the role of a journalist or an intellectual. Unless of course you’re an American celebrity journalist, like Barbara Walters, whose dream finally came true when she gave Shimon Peres a big hug at the end of an interview on The View.

Inside Story – Shimon Peres: a man of peace or war criminal?

How about some facts and – dare I say – some truths for a change?

Some truths

How, for example, after a quarter of a century of peace process, there’s no peace, and only more of the same occupation and Palestinian dispossession. (To be sure, why don’t the peace supporters descending on Jerusalem this weekend visit any random refugee camp for a chat, or drop by Gaza for some refreshments?)

How the Oslo agreements and their implementation have led not to a Palestinian state, but rather to more illegal Jewish settlements that paved the way towards a system of apartheid.

How, after the Oslo agreements were signed,  Peres supported settlement building that increased by some 50 percent from 1993-1996.

OPINION: Gone is Shimon Peres, but so is his era

Or how, in the Israeli context, Peres was probably one of the least consequential, least trusted and least popular leaders in the country’s history; not because of his peace-making wizardry, but rather because of his slimy tactics, changing colours and continuous failures.

In reality, Peres didn't win a single national election outright. But the thick-skinned politician was capable of jumping over any humiliation and defeat.


A failed politician

Shimon Peres served his country’s military better than any soldier when he was director-general of the “ministry of defence” in the 1950s. At a very young age, he oversaw the wheeling and dealing that allowed Israel to build a secret nuclear arsenal and offensive air force. 

From then on, Israel’s militarisation transformed it into a garrison state that resorted to wars not diplomacy, preferring illegal settlement to diplomatic settlement.

After entering the political arena as the protege of Israel’s first prime minister David Ben-Gurion, Peres was disliked and mistrusted by many of his own colleagues in the Labour Party. 

Even Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin would refer to Peres in his memoir, Penkas Shirut (Military ID) in the late 1970s as some sort of a lying backstabber.

Peres supported the settlement building in the occupied territories when  Rabin called the settlers “a cancer” and warned against Israel’s becoming an apartheid state.

In the mid-1970s and later 1990s he succeeded Rabin for a short while, but only to lose the following elections to Likud’s Menachem Begin and Benjamin Netanyahu respectively.

Yasser Arafat and Shimon Peres share a laugh during a meeting in September 1999 [EPA]
Yasser Arafat and Shimon Peres share a laugh during a meeting in September 1999 [EPA]

In reality, Peres didn’t win a single national election outright. But the thick-skinned politician was capable of jumping over any humiliation and defeat. 

In the 1980s, he joined a rotation agreement with Likud whereby he served half a term, during which he turned his back to the Labour Party agenda and helped implement the Right’s privatisation and liberalisation programme.

Two decades later, he would do the same by joining the infamous Ariel Sharon government as foreign minister, and later betray his party and lend his support to Sharon’s new Kadima party.

For those with selective memory, Sharon’s countless war crimes continued during his partnership with Peres.

It took a high degree of narcissism, opportunism and betrayal for Peres to finally get the support of the Right in parliament to get elected president in 2007. He used his new ceremonial post and his last remaining days defending Israel’s wars in Gaza and Lebanon.

Complex character

While generally disliked in Israel, Peres was celebrated among Israel’s friends for the way he spoke in terms of reconciliation, peace and diplomacy.

Shimon Peres obituary: Peacemaker or war criminal?

But in reality, the two-faced politician was mostly a bullsh**ter. But this was intrinsic to his character that I think at times he actually believed what he was saying. Unlike lying, bullsh*t requires a degree of delusion and, yes, honesty.

And when no eloquence can cover up for the crimes of Israel’s occupation, like an old French or British colonial representative, Peres argued that the Palestinians are responsible for their ill-fate; that they are the ones who brought their tragedy on themselves.

The Palestinian leadership was certainly inept in more ways than one, but its biggest failure was trusting the likes of Shimon Peres.

As one wrote after his death, Peres’s biggest accomplishment is his reputation as a peacemaker. Or as another noted, “Shimon Peres is gone, his nukes live on”.

Indeed, the labels that are most suited for Peres the politician, are double phrases, such as chicken-hawk, fox in sheep’s clothing, and the most befitting, peace-criminal.

May god have mercy on his soul.

Marwan Bishara is the senior political analyst at Al Jazeera. Follow him on  Facebook .

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.