There are very few people on today’s world scene that I would call a statesman or stateswoman. Shimon Peres was one of the few. He won the Nobel Peace Prize along with Yitzhak Rabin and Yassir Arafat in 1994. Mr. Peres died yesterday at the age of 93. It was a long life well lived.
Mr. Peres started his political career as a hawk but devoted most of his life to the cause of peace. His former colleague, Tzipi Livni, described him as “the realist dreamer” in a tribute she wrote for the New York Times. Ms. Livni vividly describes a trip she took in 2001 with Mr. Peres:
I had hardly moved my things into my new office when Mr. Peres took me on my first ministerial trip to New York.
The moment we stepped off the plane, he transformed before my eyes from an antediluvian Israeli politician into a sprightly statesman. The image I had of him shattered; I saw a person who wanted to make the impossible possible.
That trip, he was on a mission to persuade American skeptics to bring life to the Dead Sea by building a canal from the Red Sea. He wanted to make the desert bloom and, in his region-conscious way, Israel’s neighbor Jordan, too. After a day full of conversations, speeches and events about this plan, I was exhausted — but he wasn’t done. For Mr. Peres, the night was young, and back out we went.
The affection he found abroad and his unflagging personal convictions gave him strength to face the powerful criticisms and hatred that were leveled at him at home. When fellow Israelis called him a traitor and screamed “Oslo criminal,” it hurt him. We could all see it in his eyes; he wanted to be loved — but he was not willing to give up on his beliefs.
I saw it every time I watched him ignore the cynics, risk being called naïve, and continue doggedly to speak for and pursue peace. This was the lesson that every leader needs to learn: Follow your inner compass no matter what.
It’s hard to top that sentiment. All I have to add is this: Shalom.