The last of Israel’s founding fathers laid to rest

Thousands of dignitaries made their way to Mount Herzl cemetery this morning to honor the late Shimon Peres at his funeral.  From 70 countries, more than 90 delegations of world leaders came to pay their respects to one of Israel’s greatest known leaders in the history of the modern nation.

Among heads of state that attended from America, and were invited by the Peres family to speak, were U.S. president Barack Obama and former U.S. president Bill Clinton.  Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas was in attendance, which was considered a tribute to the peace efforts that Peres made throughout his government career.

Peres started serving in Israel as a young leader in his 20s.  His extensive dedicated service began 70 years ago, before the modern state of Israel was born.  He served in many capacities, including in the positions of defense minister, foreign minister, prime minister, and president.  He was known as a great statesman and spokesperson for Israel.

Despite differences that polarized Israeli society because of some of his political actions, most of the country is united in mourning his death.  He is considered the last of the founding fathers of the Jewish State.  It signals the end of an era of the older fathers that helped build Israel’s military and economy, as well as develop Israel’s credibility among the nations.

The diplomacy that Peres entered into with the Palestinians did not succeed, but he continued to extend an olive branch, in spite of the wars and terror that followed his peace efforts.  Peres spent much of his later years encouraging the younger generation.  Today, young Israelis are developing Israel into a modern technological state, developing business ties with many nations in a softer outreach of diplomacy.  Despite the tyranny of an uncertain, volatile Middle East, Israel is soaring in its achievements as a Start-Up Nation, reaching out to any country willing to do business with the Jewish State, while peace with the Palestinians remains a distant dream.

When President Obama visited with Peres for the first time, he claims he was the 10th U.S. president to listen to the Israeli leader since the days of John F. Kennedy.

Obama’s words at Peres’s funeral service expressed not only the life of the great Israeli statesman, but also what encompassed the lives of all Israeli citizens,

… a free life in a homeland regained. A secure life in a nation that can defend itself by itself. A full life in friendship with nations who can be counted on as allies, always. A bountiful life driven by the simple pleasures of family and by big dreams. This was Shimon Pere’s life. This is the state of Israel. This is the story of the Jewish People over the last century. It was made possible by a founding generation that counts Shimon as one of its own.

Obama also spoke of the way Peres used his imagination to reach out to all people. “it helped him to see not just the world as it is, but the world as it should be.”  And, Obama added, “His statesmanship built an unbreakable bond with the U.S. and so many other countries.”

Peres will be known as the mastermind behind the controversial Oslo Peace Accords, witnessed by President Bill Clinton on the White House lawn, September 13, 1993.  This was 23 years to the day Peres suffered a massive stroke on September 13, 2016, that eventually took his life.  Clinton not only encouraged that peace initiative, but was determined to see it implemented.

The Oslo Accords, signed between the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, were considered a victory by the Clinton administration.  But, later, that peace treaty became known as a failure, resulting in Israel taking a more hawkish approach to peace negotiations.  Something changed in the hearts of Israelis as waves of terrorist attacks, organized by Palestinian leaders, voided the principles of the Oslo Accords, resulting in thousands of deaths and injuries in Israeli society.  Today, there is uncertainty about the way Peres went about trying to achieve peace with Israel’s enemies, even as he established the Peres Center for Peace, hoping to open up greater dialogue toward a future lasting peace.

Still, Clinton was quick to board a plane and come to Israel to express his appreciation for the accomplishments in the life of his good friend, Shimon Peres.

He lived 93 years in a state of constant wonder over the unbelievable potential of all the rest of us to rise above our wounds, resentments, our fears. To make the most of today and claim the promise of tomorrow. It must have been hard for him to do this. It is easy for us to say things like this at a memorial service. It is hard to do.

Clinton said Peres was not naïve in his quest for peace, but forever optimistic in his dreams.  And that he was a man of great imagination.

So for the rest of our lives, whenever the road we travel comes to a dead end; or the good we seek to do hits a stone wall; or the hand of friendship we extend meets only a cold stare; in his honor I ask that we remember Shimon Peres’ luminous smile. And… imagine!

In Israel politics, the controversy that exists today is whether peace comes after Israel’s security interests are agreed upon or whether peace leads to those security interests being met.  Obama’s words were meant to encourage one side of that spectrum when he spoke of the Peres he knew.

I don’t believe he was naïve. But, understood from hard-earned experience that true security comes from making peace with your neighbors.

Today, as Israel looks at the chaos in the Middle East, it is harder to think of peace than it is to prepare for war.  But, certainly, Shimon Peres was one who will not be forgotten both for his earlier years of developing Israel’s military and nuclear deterrence capabilities, to his later years of trying to forge a lasting peace deal with the Palestinians and Arab states.  He had vision and he had dreams, and it will now be up to the next generation to find a way of keeping Israel secure, while living at peace with its neighbors.

As Obama expressed towards the end of his speech:

The last of the founding generation is now gone. He understood that it was better to live, not for a longing for the past, but for the dreams that have not come yet.

Peres will be known for his vision for the future and his continued optimism that Israelis could get there.  His son, Chemi, expressed to the many dignitaries present at his father’s funeral what was his family’s greatest hope.

We believe, if he could, he would have used this opportunity to remind us all that the role of leaders today is to serve their people, and there is no greater responsibility and privilege than that.

As the funeral procession walked toward the grave site, and Peres’s coffin was put in the ground between the graves of former prime ministers Yitzhak Rabin (a dove), and Yitzhak Shamir (a hawk), one could only hope that the thousands of leaders present were thinking of how best they could serve both Israel and the nations in the generations to come.

C. Hart is a news analyst reporting on political, diplomatic, and military issues as they relate to Israel, the Middle East, and the international community.