The Geopolitics of Shimon Peres’ Legacy

6 Oct



The recent death of Shimon Peres is notable in several respects that are additional to his salient, contradictory, and ambiguous legacy, which may help explain why there has been such an effort to clarify how best to remember the man. Basically, the question posed is whether to celebrate Peres’ death as that of a man dedicated to peace and reconciliation or to portray him as a wily opportunist, a skillful image-maker, and in the end, a harsh Zionist and ambitious Israeli leader. My contention is that the way Peres is being perceived and presented at the time of his death serves as a litmus test of how those on opposite sides of the Israeli/Palestinian divide experienced Peres and beyond this, how various prominent personalities for their own purposes position themselves by either championing the well orchestrated ‘Peres myth’ or seeking to depict the ‘Peres reality.’ This rich obscurity of perceptual interpretation is part of what led the death of Shimon Peres to be taken so much more seriously than that of Ariel Sharon or Moshe Dayan, who were both much more instrumental figures in the history of the Zionist project and the evolution of the state of Israel. As Shakespeare taught us, especially in Julius Caesar, it is the quality of opaqueness that creates heightened dramatic tension in reaction to an historically significant death.


These divergent assessments of the life of Shimon Peres can be roughly divided into three categories, although there are overlaps and variations within each. What can we learn from these divergences? (1) the rich, famous, and politically powerful in the West who have been bewitched by Peres’s formidable charms; (2) the rich, famous, and politically influential who know better the moral and complexity of Peres, but put on blinders while walking the path of politically correctness, which overlooks, or at least minimizes, his blemishes; (3) the marginalized, often embittered, whose self-appointed mission it is to be witnesses to what is deemed the truth behind the myth, and especially those on the Palestinian side of the fence.



Peres is unique among those recently active in Israel as his long life spans the entire Zionist experience, but more than longevity is the credibility associated with the claim that Peres should be set apart from other Israeli politicians as someone genuinely dedicated to establishing peaceful relations with the Palestinians via the realization of the two-state solution, and achieving more generally, good relations with the wider Arab world. Peres’ own presentation of self along these lines, especially in his latter years during which he served as President of Israel, provided international personalities with an excellent opportunity to exhibit the quality of attachment not only to the man, but to Israel as a country and Zionism as a movement. Allowing Peres’ idealist persona to epitomize the true nature of Israel created the political space needed to affirm contemporary Israel without being forced to admit that Israel as a political player was behaving in a manner that defied law and morality.


As already suggested, those praising Peres without any reservations fall into two of the categories set forth above. There are those like Barack Obama and Bill Clinton who seem to believe that Peres is truly a heroic embodiment of everything they hoped Israel would become, and to some extent is; in effect, the embodiment of the better angels of the Israeli experience. As well, displaying unreserved admiration and affection for Peres present Western leaders with a subtle opportunity to express indirectly their displeasure with Netanyahu and their concerns about the recent drift of Israeli diplomacy in the direction of a de facto foreclosure of Palestinian aspirations and rights.


Of course, such politicians are also eager to be seen at the same time as unconditionally pro-Israeli. Obama made this abundantly clear in his fawning and demeaning farewell meeting with Netanyahu at the UN, which Israel reciprocated by a provocative approval of a controversial settlement expansion, basically one more slap in Obama’s face.


Clinton, as well, seems understandably eager to make sure that no daylight appears between his solidarity with Israel and that of his presidential candidate spouse who has topped all American politicians, which says a lot, by tightening her embrace of everything Netanyahu’s Israel currently hopes for in Washington, including even an explicit commitment to join the fight against BDS. By so doing, Hilary Clinton has committed her presidency to favor what appear to be unconstitutional encroachments on freedom of expression that should be an occasion to vent public outrage, but has so far survived the gaze of the gatekeepers without eliciting the slightest critical comments from her opponents and even the media.


In the second category of fulsome praise for the departed Peres a variety of private motives is evident. There are those self-important braggarts like Tom Friedman, who clearly knows all about the complexity of the Peres story, but pretends to be gazing wide eyed at the brilliant blue of a cloudless sky as he describes his supposedly idyllic friendship with Peres over a period of 35 years. Friedman is definitely informed and intelligent enough not to be taken in by the Peres myth, and despite his signature demeanor of fearless candor, his views tend to be in total alignment with the liberal pro-Jewish mainstream, whether the topic is assessing Peres’s life or for that matter, assessing America’s global role or the current race for the presidency. He is as anti-Trump and as he is pro-Peres, exhibiting his mentoring stature as the guru of centrist political correctness, which is slightly disguised to the unwary by his brash tone that purports to be telling it like it is even when it isn’t.


And then in this same category, strange bedfellows to be sure, are quasi-collaborationist Palestinian leaders, most notably, Mahmoud Abbas who showed up in Jerusalem at the Peres funeral, described in the media as a rare visit to Israel, and seized the opportunity of Peres’ death to demonstrate that the Palestinian leadership is not hostile to Israeli leaders who the world recognizes as committed to peace based on the two-state solution. Abbas was presumably seeking, as well, to enhance his image as a reasonable, moderate, and trustworthy partner in the search for peace, which of course understandably infuriated not only Hamas but all those Palestinians who know better, given the daily ordeal that Palestinians are enduring as a result of policies that Peres never opposed, and in some instances, as with settlements and occupation, helped to establish. The portrayal of Peres by the respected Israeli historian, Tom Segev can hardly be news to Abbas who has endured first hand the long Palestinian ordeal: “Mr. Peres would certainly liked to enter history as a peacemaker, but that’s not how he should be remembered: indeed his greatest contributions were to Israel’s military might and victories.”


Hanan Ashrawi, a Palestinian Christian who has had important positions with the PLO for many years, and has long worked for a real peace in a spirit of dedication, but without succumbing to the deceptions surrounding the Oslo diplomacy. Ashrawi has managed to keep her eyes open to the reality of Palestinian suffering, making her inevitably more critical of Peres and suspicious of those who would whitewash is life story. She writes of Peres after his death, as follows: “Palestinians’ faith in Mr. Peres had been tested before. Not forgotten by Palestinians and others in the region is the role that he played arming the Israeli forces that expelled some 750,000 Palestinians during the establishment of Israel in 1948; the regional nuclear arms race he incited by initiating Israel’s secret atomic weapons program in the 1950s and ’60s; his responsibility for establishing some of the first Jewish settlements on occupied Palestinian land in the ’70s; his public discourse as a minister in Likud-led coalitions, justifying Israeli violations of Palestinian rights and extremist ideology; and his final role in Israeli politics as president, serving as a fig leaf for the radically pro-settler government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.” [NY Times (international edition, Oct 3, 2016)]




Above all, this overly elaborate observance of Peres’ death serves as an informal litmus test useful for determining degrees of devotion to Israel and its policies without bothering to weigh in the balance the country’s obligations under international law or the cruel reality being imposed on the Palestinian people year after year. Those who praise Peres unreservedly are deemed trustworthy within the Beltway, scoring high marks from AIPAC, and those who point to his shortcomings or to policies that went awry are viewed as unredeemably hostile to Israel. They are correctly assumed to be critics of the Special Relationship and of the over the top flows of U.S. military assistance (at least $3.8 billion over the next ten years), or worse, identified as sympathizers with the Palestinian struggle. This description fits such respected and influential critics of the Peres myth as Robert Fisk (British journalist), Uri Avnery (Israeli peace activist, former Knesset member), Gideon Levy (Israeli journalist), and Ilan Pappé (noted Israeli revisionist historian living in Britain).




In my view only those who see the dark sides of Shimon Peres are to be trusted, although it is excusable to be an innocent devotee in the manner of Obama. In this regard the knowledgeable liberal enthusiast is the least acceptable of the three categories because of the willful deception involved in painting a picture of Peres that is known to feed a misleading myth that is itself part of the Israeli hasbara manipulating international public awareness of the Palestinian ordeal, and thus encouraging a false public belief that the leadership in Israel, even the Netanyahu crowd, is sincere in their off again on again advocacy of a two-state solution or of the establishment of a truly independent Palestinian state. Remember that even Netanyahu joined the chorus at the funeral by treating Peres with a moral deference that should be reserved for the gods.


There is another aspect of what was signified by the ardent eulogies delivered by Western leaders at the Peres funeral that was dramatically underlined by the renowned Israeli columnist, Gideon Levy, yet entirely overlooked in the extensive commentary: “Anti-Semitism died on Friday — or at least, its use as an excuse by Israel. On the eve of Rosh Hashanah 5777, the world proved that while anti-Semitism remains in certain limited circles, it can no longer frame most of the world’s governments. Also, hatred of Israel is not what it is said to be, or what Israel says it is.” Levy’s observation is timely and relevant. It goes beyond an expression of the view that Peres was partly lauded because he was ‘not Netanyahu.’ Far deeper is Levy’s understanding that the Peres funeral gave the West an opportunity to express their affection and admiration for a prominent Jew being celebrated because he fashioned for himself and others the image of a ‘man of peace.’ Independent of whether or not this is a true appreciation, it allows a distinction to be sharply drawn between rejecting Jews as a people and criticizing Israel and its leaders for their practices and policies. In effect, if Israel were to embody the supposed worldview of Peres, and bring peace, then Israel would be welcomed into the community of states without any resistance arising from the Jewish identity of its majority population.


We in the United States are particularly grateful to Gideon Levy for making this point so clearly. We are faced with the opposite syndrome. Namely, criticisms of Israel’s policies and practices with respect to the Palestinian people are being deliberately treated as ‘hate speech’ and worse, as a new virulent form of post-Holocaust anti-Semitism. Such attacks have been recently mounted with hurtful fury against pro-Palestinian activists and supporters of the BDS Campaign.


May Shimon Peres rest in peace, and may the Palestinian people through their representatives intensify their struggle to achieve a real peace with Israel based on law, justice, and mutual empathy.




12 Responses to “The Geopolitics of Shimon Peres’ Legacy”

  1. ray032 October 6, 2016 at 3:58 pm #

    Jonathan Cook: the View from Nazareth
    Odeh exposes the myth of Peres and Israel’s ‘peace camp’

    The National – 6 October 2016

    As world leaders congregated in Jerusalem last weekend to eulogize Shimon Peres as a “great peacemaker”, the peace camp of which he was the figurehead went to war against its main Palestinian partner in Israel.

    Ayman Odeh, head of the only Jewish-Arab party in the Israeli legislature, is the most prominent representative of Israel’s 1.7 million Palestinian citizens. He also serves as chairman of a coalition called the Joint List, formed with other Palestinian parties, that is now the third largest in parliament.

    Mr Odeh, nonetheless, enraged the Israeli Jewish public by refusing to attend Peres’s funeral.

    The Joint List leader is known for his efforts to build bridges to deprived and vulnerable Jewish communities. He is committed to strengthening trust between Jews and Palestinians, rather than emphasizing national conflict.

    His advocacy for a new civic identity – abolishing Israel’s institutionalized ethnic categories of Jew and Arab – earned him a place last year on the top 100 global thinkers list compiled by Foreign Policy magazine.

    So how, the Israeli media lamented, could he not pay his last respects to Peres, architect of the Oslo Accords?

    Mr Odeh’s boycott of the funeral was all the more shocking to Israelis because Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, came to bid Peres farewell – after Israel issued him a rare permit to enter Jerusalem. Pictures of Mr Abbas and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu shaking hands only underscored Mr Odeh’s absence.

    But even that was hastily exploited to augment Peres’s beatification. If Peres had long proved his dedication to the cause of peace, Mr Odeh’s treatment of him in death confirmed that Israel lacked a Palestinian partner even inside Israel.

    That is a narrative that Israeli Jews are only too familiar with. After the Oslo process collapsed at the Camp David summit in 2000, Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak – then head of the peace camp – accused Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat of being “no partner for peace”. This paved the way to the Second Intifada.

    In similar fashion, Jewish politicians associated with the peace movement turned their fire on Mr Odeh. Erel Margalit, a member of parliament in the centre-left Zionist Union, accused him of “sticking a finger in the eyes” of the peace camp.

    By contrast, for most Palestinians, it was Mr Abbas’s attendance at the funeral, not Mr Odeh’s boycott, that was baffling.

    While Mr Odeh acknowledged the private grief of the Peres family, he argued that the funeral was “part of a national day of mourning in which I have no place”.

    The mythical Peres honoured by the world is unrecognizable to Palestinians. They regard even his most visible achievement, the Oslo Accords, as a cynical trap. It was never designed to lead to a viable Palestinian state, but rather leave the PA in a twilight zone of semi-sovereignty, acting as the servile police force of the occupation.

    In addition, Israel’s Palestinian citizens like Mr Odeh found that Oslo intentionally severed them from their kin in the occupied territories, culminating in a steel-and-concrete separation barrier that further fragmented the Palestinian people.

    The domestic narrative about Peres excluded Israel’s Palestinian citizens no less, said Mr Odeh.

    Eulogies in Hebrew extolled a Peres who armed Israeli soldiers to destroy the Palestinian homeland in the Nakba of 1948; who then oversaw two decades of internal military repression against Israel’s Palestinian minority; who built a nuclear bomb to ensure Israel could bully the entire Middle East; and who engineered the settlement project as a way to make the occupation irreversible.

    These were reasons enough for not attending. But Mr Odeh expressed a more personal concern.

    Given their unique position inside Israel, Palestinian citizens had connected with the “historic pain” of a long-persecuted people. But that empathy had never been reciprocated – even by Israel’s peace camp.

    Mr Odeh was not referring only to the Nakba. Peres’s funeral coincided with the anniversary of events at the start of the Second Intifada when Israeli police killed 13 unarmed Palestinian demonstrators. Among them was the brother of Mr Odeh’s wife.

    Although a later judicial inquiry concluded that the police had an institutional view of Israel’s Palestinian minority as an enemy, no officers were indicted. Neither was there a formal apology, even from ­Peres, who served for many years as president.

    In choosing to attend the funeral, Mr Abbas doubtless had to weigh up many factors, including his international standing, diplomatic protocol and bolstering his own legacy as a peacemaker.

    The major consideration for Mr Odeh, by contrast, was whether his presence might further indulge the self-delusions and moral evasions of Israel’s self-styled peace camp.

    The correctness of his decision was driven home soon enough. On Tuesday, the Israeli media reported that Isaac Herzog, head of the peace bloc in parliament led by the Zionist Union, was close to a deal to join the most right-wing government in Israel’s history.

    If Mr Herzog does decide to shore up a government committed to militarism and entrenching the occupation, he will be following a path well trodden by Peres himself.

  2. Beau Oolayforos October 8, 2016 at 4:39 pm #

    Dear Professor Falk,

    The military subsidy to Tel Aviv, I think, is to be $38 billion, over 10 years.

    I’m not sure that it is excusable for Obama to be an innocent devotee of the Peres myth, any more than it is for him to speak as if he were apologizing for those peaceable notions he had at Prague and Cairo, back in the day. He’s not Al Green this time, but rather Tyrone Davis, with “….baby, can I change my mind?”

    • Richard Falk October 9, 2016 at 8:54 am #

      You may be right about this; somehow Obama seemed determined to leave the White
      House in the good graces of Israel, although with the provocative settlement announcement
      of a few days ago, the Netanyahu government has made it difficult..

  3. Laurie Knightly October 8, 2016 at 6:07 pm #

    What Peres was in life is well described/referenced here. The positive side of the man, paltry as it was, consisted of talk not action. There’s no reason whatsoever to think that the man cared about the fate of the Palestinians. Get rid of them……

    Consider the latest moral outrage regarding Trump’s past quotes regarding very specific glamorous women who have a tendency to make themselves accessible to wealthy/powerful men. He gets turned down by one which he admits and uses a crude figure of speech, on which he didn’t act, concerning very specific others. Donald! If you advocated more land grabs. instead of sexy females, and said F@#% Palestine, you would not only be forgiven but cheered on. Grabbing huge swaths of land and dispossessing/killing/incarcerating the inhabitants is laudable. Get with the program!

    And those pious folk referencing their daughters? Remember the story of Lot? Did God kill him? Nope killed his wife for checking out the scene. Don’t look, Hillary, at the actions of your own disgusting husband. Don’t consider the heinous death and destruction of which you were a part. Scripture tells you that our leaders are there because God wants them to be, so don’t question it. When the bible becomes a source of ethics, count me out. It’s still the most cruel inhuman unethical literary work existent. Of course as a woman, I shouldn’t attempt to speak on these matters. And what is Hillary again?

    • Richard Falk October 9, 2016 at 8:51 am #

      As usual, Laurie, a very penetrating look beneath the surface! Richard

      • Gene Schulman October 10, 2016 at 12:40 am #

        At the risk of raising Laurie’s anti-sexist ire, Richard, that sounds very close to a double-entendre. Intentional or not 😉

      • Richard Falk October 10, 2016 at 8:24 am #

        Certainly not intentional! It took me awhile to grasp what caught your wandering eye. I
        think you have too much time/energy at your disposal in Djerba!! Richard

      • Laurie Knightly October 10, 2016 at 9:58 am #

        Admittedly, I saw the same double entendre as did Gene. I imagined myself saying, “Let’s be clear on the meaning of your words Dr. Falk, lest the media spend the remaining weeks assigning them non existent meaning – much to the detriment of the real issues confronting the world.” Trump is disgustingly crude in his language choices and the geopolitical actions of the US require smooth duplicitous rhetoric and extensive government experience. Trump can’t just erase embarrassing tapes. That’s real power!

    • ray032 October 10, 2016 at 9:18 am #

      Laurie, can’t resist replying to your thoughts of God with this comment posted in a Washing Post discussion,

      “For all the thinking people who question more, the evidence in the two sides of Aleppo should put an end to the US-Western propaganda lie Assad is bombing his own people. He’s defending his Country against the US led WAR against Syria, all of which is in violation of International Law.

      The US is now become a criminal rogue power in this world, the Dictatorial Power attempting to dictate to the whole world wearing a velvet glove.

      By the Law of Karma, a.k.a. ‘what you sow, so shall you reap,’ while Americans remain silent when the US ushers in the Law of the Jungle to the Middle East and this World, that Chaos will come to the American street in the form of US style, crazy home grown terrorism.

      The absurdity in the US is the fact a Presidential election is going on and it’s dominated by lewd discourse, when there are so many big important issues that NEED RESOLUTION, not promissory slogans.

      WAR or PEACE should be at the VERY TOP of the National discussion because that’s whats at stake. It’s your Future LIFE or not?

      This is totally insane, “Among them were cruise missile strikes against Syrian military activities directly involved in Aleppo operations. The idea, said a nonmilitary official who approved of the concept, was more a shot across the bow to jolt hesitation into a new paradigm, rather than any full-scale U.S. entry into the conflict.”

      WAR ALWAYS HAS UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES. Do you think the Russians wouldn’t know where the cruise missiles came from?

      This propaganda is to lull you to sleep. What it deceitfully calls a “shot across the bow” with the supposition it would stop there and cause the Russians and Syrians to fall back is delusional!

      It would be the opening shot leading to WWIII-Armageddon that will lead to the End Times Biblical ‘Judgment by Fire’ by the ‘abomination that makes desolation’ in ancient Bible talk.

      The Reality of these Days, and the spirit of the Times, it’s the
      ‘A-bom-i-Nation that makes desolation.’

    • Kata Fisher October 10, 2016 at 2:08 pm #

      Hi Laurie

      You ask:
      “And what is Hillary again?”
      At her best – she is a manic lady. That is why she is stuck exactly where she is.

      Good part of her manic condition is connected to this:
      Old (by its founders) and contemporarily forms of feminism (that is portrayed in terms as legal female rights) movement is extremely Sadist and Psychotic.

      I bet that even folks who sincerely feel about women rights are not aware of that fact – just because of the never understood “legal termination of a pregnancy for a woman” and/or “no-torture of a developing/developed items within a uterus” concepts. Further, “legal facilities and legal medical council/care” is another overlooked items.

      Trump suffers from Nymphomaniac depressions – that is why he is so nasty and clinically stupid, all together. But he relates his Nymphomaniac depressions to a specific age. He does not apologise about that – nor he should because there are balances between state and the Church.

      I think that is exactly where he is at, and his spiritual confusion is valid.

      What can be his penitence – or his treatment be?

  4. ray032 October 9, 2016 at 9:50 am #

    Richard, because Peres was the inspiration and enabler of Israel getting Nukes, this comment I just made in another publication is relevant here;

    Damascus has been lived in continually longer than Jerusalem. It is mentioned in the Bible’s Old and New Testaments 60 TIMES.
    There are lots of things mentioned in the Bible, Historical, Religious, Secular, War, Peace, Crime, Violence, Politics, Princes, Paupers, Taxes, Economics and so much more. Even within our modern developed economies Kings and Emperors never saw, there is NOTHING HUMANS DO TODAY that is not mentioned somewhere in the Bible, if only in one line.

    I see lines in the Book unfolding in this MATERIAL WORLD being fulfilled in Syria TODAY. These words and visions beyond them, were written by Isaiah the Prophet some 2600 years ago: “The burden of Damascus. Behold, Damascus is taken away from being a city, and it shall be a ruinous heap……………(WE ARE WITNESS to that TODAY)

    Woe to the multitude of many people, which make a noise like the noise of the seas; and to the rushing of Nations, that make a rushing like the rushing of mighty waters!
    The Nations shall rush like the rushing of many waters: but God shall rebuke them, and they shall flee far off, and shall be chased as the chaff of the mountains before the wind, and like a rolling thing before the whirlwind…………………………………..
    Isaiah 17
    (WE ARE WITNESS TO THAT TODAY though the total whirlwind has not come up yet, this article is warning us it could come at any moment)

    No matter how much the MSM propagandizes Syria is a “civil war” we know the Truth.

    With so many Nations and their proxies involved in the War On Syria , this it that World War Isaiah the Prophet saw 2800 years ago. Nuclear missiles didn’t exist when Isaiah wrote his visions. The last line in chapter 17 implies the ancient Biblical word “abomination” in our modern age, conforming with the realities of TODAY’S MATERIAL WORLD, really means in the spirit of the letter, “A-bomb-i-Nation of desolation”:
    “And behold at evening tide trouble; and before the morning he is not. ” POOF! Just gone! That’s what nukes do!

    There is talk the US wants to provide it’s proxy terrorist forces in Syria Manpads, shoulder fired missiles that can bring down Syrian and Russian planes. That is insanity” Past History has shown Western supported Jihadist Forces eventually bite the hand that created and feeds them weapons.

    When those US supplied Manpads, directly or through Saudi Arabia, bring down Israeli fighters or a Passenger plane, that last line in Isaiah 17 may come to pass.

    February 27, 2012

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