Shimon Peres, Model Public Servant
As president in 2010.
Shimon Peres, who died Wednesday, deserves to be remembered not merely as one of the architects of modern Israel, but as a model public servant -- by turns pragmatic and idealistic and, perhaps above all else, hopeful.
Peres, who served variously as defense minister, foreign minister, prime minister and president in seven decades of public life, was one of the founders of the Israeli military. Despite Western arms embargoes, he managed to purchase fighter planes piece by piece, have them surreptitiously assembled in a small California airfield, and flown by volunteer aviators over the North Pole to Israel. Resisting significant internal and international pressure, he persuaded France to give Israel the technology to build its own nuclear arsenal.
At the same time, Peres was perhaps most famous for his role in negotiating the Oslo peace accord, for which he shared the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israel's then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. It was always intended as a first step in a process to bring peace to the region, and set aside the really difficult issues for later: the status of Jerusalem and of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, the right of return for the 1948 Palestinian refugees, Palestinian statehood.
All of those issues remain unresolved, and the peace process has collapsed. But Peres never gave up on his dream for peace and a "new Middle East." "I'm not wrong," he said in 2012. "It's just taking more time than I thought."
Peres was sometimes referred to, not always favorably, as a dreamer. For a dreamer, he sure got a lot done.
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