It is painful to declare it, yet it is true: at the age of 93, Shimon Peres is gone.
In the coming days, the Jewish state of Israel will grieve the loss of its elder statesman and a man who personified the words made famous by Theodor Herzl, the father of Zionism: “If you will it, it is not a dream.”
For Shimon Peres, the dream of re-establishing a state in the historic homeland of the Jewish people came to pass. And until his final days on earth, he was singularly committed to seeking a better future for his nation, and to working toward the goal of peace.
Peres began building the Jewish homeland in the years before modern-day Israel existed and declared its independence in 1948. Faced with a battle for its very existence, Shimon Peres was charged with securing the weapons necessary to ensure the survival of the nascent state. In later years, he would be credited with assembling the nuclear capability that to this day helps serve as a deterrent for Israel.
Peres played a role in every major event that befell the Jewish state over a 60-year period, serving in the country’s most vital leadership positions, including Minister of Defense and three times as Israel’s Prime Minister.
During my numerous visits to Israel I had several occasions to meet with Shimon Peres. He was truly one of the founding fathers of Israel and sitting with him was the equivalent of breaking bread with John Adams or Thomas Jefferson. I reflect on those conversations with sadness at his passing, and in wonderment at wisdom of the words he spoke.
The first time I met with Peres was during the height of the Palestinian Intifada in the late 1980s. It was a hard time to be in Israel. World condemnation was at an all-time high and Israel was losing a PR battle that positioned Israeli soldiers as Goliath and rock-hurling Palestinian youngsters as David. Peres spoke with resolve about how Israel would weather this storm, and he pledged that the country would do what it needed to do in order to defend itself.
Ironically, the next time I met with Peres was during the second major wave of Palestinian terrorism in the 1990s. Despite the efforts by Peres and Yitzhak Rabin to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through the Oslo peace process, Yasir Arafat and his countrymen rejected an unprecedented and generous offer of statehood alongside Israel, opting instead to launch a terrorist war replete with suicide bus bombings and other attacks aimed at murdering innocent Israelis in the streets.
The words that Peres spoke to me in the late 1990s were eerily foreboding. Not only did he speak passionately against the Palestinian choice to pursue violence rather than negotiations, but he also warned me that his greatest fear was that their violent tactics would spill over and produce ripples that would be felt all across the world. It came to pass. What Peres told me was right, and the embrace of terrorism by the Palestinians, especially suicide attacks, spread like a plague.
We remember all too well the sight of suicide terrorists murdering thousands of Americans on Sept. 11, and suicide attacks continues to be pervasive among radical Islamic terrorists not just in Israel, but also across the Middle East, North Africa and increasingly around the entire world.
Yet, despite the challenges facing Israel, Shimon Peres was the perpetual optimist. A Nobel Peace Prize recipient, his service as President of Israel seemed a perfect capstone to a remarkable career of public service. He only retired from office in 2014, a spry 91-year-old, \after seven years as Israel’s President.
Shimon Peres represented the best that Israel has to offer the world. He was unapologetic about the need for his nation to defend itself, and unafraid to confront attempt to demonize, undercut or undermine the Jewish state.
He also refused to shy away from Israel’s most vexing challenges and even in its darkest days he always believed that brighter times were just around the corner. Today, the Palestinian refusal to accept Israel’s legitimacy and reach an end to the conflict has made the possibility of a resolution unlikely to be achieved in the foreseeable future. However, the lifelong dream of Shimon Peres to have Israel living at peace with the greater Arab world seems more possible than perhaps at any time in history.
Israel today would not be where it is without the relentless work and the selfless dedication of Shimon Peres. I am a better man for having known him, and the entire world is a better place because of his contributions.
He was a man of humility, an intellectual and a dreamer. He was a humanitarian, a gentleman and a kind soul; a believer in the infinite possibilities of Israel. He was a man of wisdom, and a man of peace.