Leaders from across the world gathered in Jerusalem today for the funeral of Shimon Peres. Prime Minister Netanyahu, President Obama, former President Bill Clinton, and Amos Oz all paid tribute to the former Israeli Prime Minister and President. British dignitaries present at the funeral included Prince Charles, David Cameron, Tony Blair, Boris Johnson, and Emily Thornberry. Mahmoud Abbas, leader of the Palestinian Authority, attended the funeral, as did Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry. Prime Ministers, Presidents, and Monarchs of Canada, France, Germany, Mexico, Spain, the Czech Republic, Italy, Poland, and Sweden were all in attendance.
Peres was the last surviving founding father of Israel, who served in virtually every post of the Israeli state. He arrived in Mandatory Palestine age 11 in 1934 with his immediate family, rising up through the Labor Party’s youth ranks to take key positions in Israel’s defence and security establishment, and eventually to two stints as Prime Minister. Peres oversaw Israel’s transition from a fledgling new-born state to a military and technological leader as the country absorbed hundreds of thousands of new immigrants. “The last of the founding generation is now gone”, remarked President Obama. Peres himself worded it better than anyone else: “I am the child of the generation that lost one world and went on to build another.”
At his Jerusalem funeral, many emphasised Peres’ role as a peace-maker. Hawkish in his youth, Peres turned dove in the late 1980s, secretly initiating discussions which would lead to the 1994 Oslo accords. Peres broke the long-standing taboo of direct negotiations with the PLO, and laid the foundations for a future final-status peace agreement. On the White House lawn, it was Peres that prodded Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin into his famous handshake with Yasser Arafat. “We are sincere,” Peres told the Palestinians. “We mean business. We do not seek to shape your lives or determine your destiny. Let all of us turn from bullets to ballots, from guns to shovels.”
The loss of momentum behind the Oslo Accords, caused by the assassination of Yizthak Rabin and a new wave of Palestinian suicide bombings in the late 1990s, did not shake Peres’ belief in peace. A man of immeasurable stature, Prime Minister Netanyahu eulogised Peres as “a great man of the world.” Bill Clinton said Peres was Israel’s “biggest dreamer”. Paying tribute to Shimon Peres in his final hours on Tuesday evening, LFI Parliamentary Chair Joan Ryan MP dedicated our work to his vision. When asked in 2014 what he thought was the biggest obstacle to peace today, Peres replied “the scepticism of human beings”. It is that scepticism that all of us in the pro-peace movement must fight to overcome. Peres’ inspiration to that end is his greatest legacy.