Several days before he signed the Oslo Accord in September 1993, I asked Shimon Peres, then foreign minister in the government of Yitzhak Rabin, how he would like to be remembered in the history books. “As one who contributed to an Israel strong enough to make peace,” he answered. Peres, who died Sept. 28 at age 93, leaves behind a state with the most powerful military in the region and one of the world’s strongest high-tech industries. Thanks to Peres and his generation, Israel is an island of stability in the heart of a stormy Middle East. He started pulling Israeli troops out of Lebanon and extricated the economy from runaway triple-digit inflation in the mid-1980s. Peres paved the way to the Oslo Accord with the Palestinians, which led to the peace agreement with Jordan in 1994 and strengthened Israel’s international standing.
Peres did not live to translate this power into peace. The State of Israel did not enjoy the fruit of his labor. The 1979 peace agreement with Egypt was signed by Prime Minister Menachem Begin of the Likud Party shortly after the 1977 elections that ended Labor Party rule. The negotiations Peres conducted with Syrian President Hafez al-Assad in 1996, after Rabin’s assassination, led to a dead end. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was the one who led Israeli troops and settlers out of the Gaza Strip in 2005. Prime Ministers Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert were much closer than Peres ever was to a permanent status agreement with the Palestinian side.