Shimon Peres dies at 93, reviving memories of Erdogan “conquering” of Davos

Among the numerous advantages of attending the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting every January are the “Davos moments” – extraordinary events you’d only witness there. The late Shimon Peres, who died this morning, features in two of mine. First came some years back at one of those cocktail functions whose hosts is impossible to recall. Peres spent most of that evening in earnest, private conversation with Google’s attentive founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin. That triggering an obvious note it would be worth me paying more attention to his contributions. The second was seven years ago when Peres sparked an international incident after sharing a panel with volatile Turkish President Recep Erdogan. After demanding extra time so he could accuse Peres of crimes against humanity, when finally restrained Erdogan walked off the stage, returning to Istanbul to banners welcoming him home as “conquerer of Davos.” Peres rose above that noise as he tended to do with much else. He continued to add value for what he believed in – Israel and the Jewish people – right up until his passing. – Alec Hogg  

By Gwen Ackerman

(Bloomberg) — Shimon Peres, the architect of Israel’s defense establishment who evolved into a tireless advocate for Middle East peacemaking, has died. He was 93.

Peres suffered a stroke on Sept. 13 at the Tel Aviv-area hospital where he died on Wednesday. “His only interest was to serve the Jewish people,” his son Chemi Peres said in a statement broadcast on Army Radio.

Peres held all of Israel’s top civilian posts in a career that spanned more than six decades. From procuring arms for the fledgling state’s 1948 War of Independence and developing its nuclear reactor in the 1950s, to the Nobel Peace Prize he shared for the historic 1993 peace accords with the Palestinians, he played a role in most milestones in his country’s political and diplomatic history.

“The guardian of Israel neither sleeps nor slumbers,” is how former aide Mitchell Barak, citing the Book of Psalms, described the Israeli leader. “Even after the age of 90, Peres was still trying to think of what Israel needed strategically.”

Shimon Peres, vice-Prime Minister of Israel participates in a discussion during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on January 28, 2005. Photographer: Daniel Acker/ Bloomberg News.
Shimon Peres, file photo. Photographer: Daniel Acker/ Bloomberg News.

President Barack Obama hailed Peres’s “extraordinary life.”

“There are few people who we share this world with who change the course of human history, not just through their role in human events, but because they expand our moral imagination and force us to expect more of ourselves,” Obama said in a statement. “My friend Shimon was one of those people.”

Although he later developed a reputation as a dove, in the state’s early decades Peres was known as one of the more hawkish figures in the ruling Labor party.

Captured Land

Peres initially viewed Jewish settlements on land that Israel captured in 1967 as a bulwark against enemies and backed their development. Over the years, his position changed. Together with then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, he forged the historic 1993 Oslo accords, seen at the time as the foundation for Palestinian statehood. The three men won the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts, and Peres famously declared the advent of a new Middle East.

His vision of peace was not to be as violence continued on both sides. Many Israelis opposed territorial concessions to Palestinians and staged violent protests against the deal that culminated in Rabin’s 1995 assassination by Yigal Amir. Peres stepped into Rabin’s job, then lost his last run for prime minister six months later, to Benjamin Netanyahu.

By late 2000, peace efforts crumbled amid the second Palestinian uprising against Israel.

‘Not Wrong’

“Many people say I was wrong when I talked about the new Middle East and the need for more ties with our Arab neighbors,” he  told Bloomberg in 2012. “I’m not wrong. It’s just taking more time than I thought.”

Bill Clinton, who was president when the 1993 peace accords were signed on the White House lawn, lauded his vision. “His critics called him a dreamer. That he was — a lucid, eloquent dreamer until the very end. Thank goodness.”

Tony Blair, the former British prime minister and later special envoy to the international group of mediators known as the Middle East Quartet, called him “a visionary whose vision was never dimmed or displaced.”

“Though he grew older, his spirit never did,” Blair said.

Ghassan Khatib, a Palestinian analyst and former Palestinian Authority Cabinet member, took a dimmer view. “Peres’s camp, which believed in territorial compromise as a strategic solution to the conflict, was defeated,” Khatib said.

The Israeli Cabinet scheduled a special session to honor Peres later in the day. The funeral was scheduled for Friday, Israeli media reported.

“Shimon dedicated his life to the sovereignty of our people,” Netanyahu said in an e-mailed statement. “A man of vision, his gaze was focused on the future.”

Born Szymon Perski Aug. 2, 1923, in Wiszniew, Poland (now part of Belarus), Peres moved with his family to British-ruled Palestine in 1934.

After attending agricultural boarding school, he lived on Kibbutz Alumot near the Sea of Galilee, working as a dairy farmer and shepherd until he joined the Haganah, the underground precursor of the Israel Defense Forces.

While in his 20s, Peres caught the eye of Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, who charged him with buying arms abroad for the fledgling army before the 1948 war.

Nuclear Warheads

He later persuaded France to provide technology to build Israel’s nuclear reactor in Dimona, widely thought to be a military facility, though Israel has never said so. That reactor was Peres’s greatest achievement, said Yoram Dori, a Peres adviser for 20 years. The Washington-based Arms Control Association estimated that Israel had 75 to 200 nuclear warheads in 2012.

Peres was a member of Israel’s Knesset, or parliament, from 1959 to 2007. He held the defense, foreign affairs and finance portfolios, and served twice as prime minister: for two years as part of a unity government, and for seven months after Rabin was assassinated.

During his first tenure as prime minister, Peres, with the help of Stanley Fischer, who is now vice chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve, tamed annual inflation exceeding 400 percent. During his second term, an Israeli military operation to stop Hezbollah rocket fire from Lebanon killed about 100 Lebanese civilians who had taken shelter at a United Nations camp. Peres said Israel had no idea civilians were present and expressed sorrow and regret for the deaths.

Political ‘Schemer’

As a politician, Peres was admired for his gravitas. Political allies, though, distrusted him, including Rabin, who was quoted by Israeli media as calling him an “indefatigable schemer.” At one campaign stop in the 1980s, he was pelted with tomatoes, media reported at the time.

Impeccably dressed, well-read and multilingual, the internationally feted statesman was often better received abroad than at home, where he failed to lead his Labor party to outright victory in five parliamentary elections. He counted former President Bill Clinton, French President Francois Mitterrand, Barbra Streisand and Sharon Stone among his friends, and was a former vice president of the London-based Socialist International.

In 2007, at 83, the Israeli parliament elected Peres to the mostly ceremonial role of president, replacing Moshe Katsav, who resigned to unsuccessfully fight rape charges. In that non-partisan office, he came closest to enjoying the popular acclaim that had eluded him for years.

High-Tech Advocate

Known for his quick mind and wide-ranging interests, Peres was an energetic advocate of Israel’s high-tech industry. After completing his presidential term in 2014, he founded Peres & Associates to help promote Israel’s companies abroad.

“The truth about Peres is simple: He cannot stop. His eyes, as always, look far into the future,” biographer Michael Bar-Zohar wrote in “Shimon Peres: The Biography,” released in 2007. “Peres doesn’t suffer from his advanced age. But his age instills in him a sense of urgency. He admits to not having enough time for all he wants to do.”

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