Shimon Peres, visionary for peace

I met Shimon Peres during the state visit of Their Majesties the King and Queen of Spain to Israel in November 1993. From then onwards, I had the privilege to maintain an intense relationship with the Israeli politician. Thousands of hours of conversations, negotiations, secret meetings and imaginative proposals forged a strong friendship and a deep admiration toward him. Many analysts will describe today the Israeli leader as one of the major architects of the creation and consolidation of the State of Israel. I recall, while I was Spain’s Ambassador in Israel, the words pronounced by Shimon Peres on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the constitution of the State of Israel and the clear message that, from then onwards, Israel’s challenge would be achieving peace and reconciliation with its Arab neighbours. Israeli citizens will undoubtedly express their recognition for his decisive contribution to the construction of their State. Spanish citizens should remember him as the signatory of the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between Spain and Israel in January 1986. His long political career, during which he was in charge of the main ministerial portfolios, also taking office as Prime Minister, ended as President of the State of Israel. As State President, he was some sort of “Father of the Nation”, bringing to the office more duties and autoritas than formally corresponded to the job.

But his true obsession and contribution was peace with Arabs and Palestinians. This vision of peace in the region is what in my opinion should prevail as his major legacy. He immediately understood the need to negotiate with Palestinians and had the courage and the imagination to convince Prime Minister Isaac Rabin, the other major peace hero, to negotiate in secret behind the back of the USA the start of reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians. Oslo was an innovative and unexpected initiative that followed the Madrid Peace Conference and allowed to imagine that peace between these two peoples was possible. From that time on until his last actions as President, Shimon Peres always sought and upheld a political and negotiated solution. Let us remember the proposal of Shimon Peres-Abu Ala which, in my opinion, may still be considered as the basis for any final agreement. He had no difficulty in negotiating and talking to Yasser Arafat, with whom he always had mutual respect and recognition, as with the current Palestinian President Abu Mazen. Even in the hardest times of the second intifada, Shimon Peres always tried to find solutions, as in the matter I had the honour to negotiate with him after the church of the Nativity siege. As President, he tried many times to convince the most recent Prime Ministers to look for imaginative solutions and proposals.

The only fault we may attribute to Shimon Peres was his great vision of future. He was ahead of his time. His dream was to achieve that the Middle East lives in peace and prosperity, similarly to the European experience, in which Israelis, Palestinians, Egyptians, Jordanians, Syrians and Lebanese could live in an integrated region where trade, ideas and human beings could freely move. His statements had always a visionary nature. Many were his famous quotes, which even were termed as “peresims”. I remember one of his most brilliant statements that “the twenty-first century will be the last century of agriculture and borders. Our current century will be that of ideas, information and communication, which may not be stopped by physical barriers”. Also, his strong conviction that “wars in the Middle East will not be wars to regain land but wars over water”. Another one of his favourite quotes that he did not voice in public was that “there are two things you must never do in front of a camera: make love and make peace in the Middle East”. He always took by surprise with his ability to use language and his excellence in speeches and public interventions. I was honoured by the touching farewell he dedicated to me at the end of my mission as the EU Special representative in the Middle East. During my mission as special representative, we used to see each other every Friday at his office in Tel Aviv before Shabbat to review the events of the week and plan together some constructive measures.

His great striving until the end of his days was seeing the “two-State solutions”, living in peace and security. Shimon Peres leaves us and his dream has not become true finally. His last articles tackled science and, in particular, the study of the brain, saying that “brain science is our next great frontier”. Science did not make it on time to cure his last brain disease.

I conclude these lines of recognition and admiration with one of the quotes that impressed me the most when he denounced the horror of war and terrorism: “in peace, children bury their parents; war alters the order of nature and makes parents bury their children”.

We will bury Shimon Peres, but not his ideas, his legacy or his vision of peace and reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians.