The New York Times Magazine, January 13, 2013
It is a pleasure to spend time with this man, whom David Ben-Gurion took under his wing when he was a young kibbutz youth movement leader and who became a top arms procurement official of the Israeli defense establishment at the age of 24. Soon after that he began rubbing shoulders with world leaders, and he has been doing that while serving Israel’s military power and diplomacy ever since . Peres today is a true man of the world, full of knowledge, insights and a curiosity that has not been worn down by the years. As he says of himself, if he had not become a politician he probably would have been an author or a poet (and in fact some of his verse has been put to music over the years). Even entering his nineties, his memory is phenomenal. He hops through a string of associations with a rapidity that demands a listener’s close attention, vividly describing his encounters with central figures in the post-world War II era, President Ronald Reagan’s anti-Soviet joke competition, marathon drinking sessions with German Defense Minister Franz Josef Strauss, shared trips and poetry readings with French Premier Francois Mitterrand, and what he learned from the founder of modern Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew. But it is Ben-Gurion, and the many years he spent in his proximity, that Peres returns to over and over again.
The path of Peres’s career has been paved with struggles – personal, public and international, on a wide range of issues, but it seem
s to me that they can be sorted into three main categories: the fight to build up Israel’s military power in order to prevent a second Holocaust; the fight for the affection of the Israeli public; and the fight for peace. In my mind, Peres won the first by a knockout, via his key role in establishing Israel’s military industries and its nuclear project. His resolve and persistence in building a local arms-production infrastructure laid the technological foundation that made Israel a leading international high-tech power— the source of the economic abundance that the country enjoys today.
Now, in his twilight years, Peres has also won the battle for the public. After years suffering the most blackened reputation of all the country’s politicians, about whom any number of lies were spread and smear campaigns launched (as well as some accurate accounts of dirty political tricks); as the leader who never managed to win an election campaign, Peres now basks in a newfound warmth and affection from all sectors of the populace.
Regrettably, in my opinion, he is losing his third war, the one for peace. Once, Peres made frequent mention of his vision for “a new Middle East.” Today, while this new Middle East is indeed taking shape, it is a far cry from the one that he envisioned. For his part, always the optimist, he flatly rejected the idea that he might be losing the war for peace.