Peres: 93 Years Young
When I heard the news that Shimon Peres, the last of Israel’s greatest generation of founding leaders, had died I found myself ruminating about what was so special about this man whom I had had the pleasure of knowing for almost 35 years. It took me a second to articulate it. Peres was almost unique among the Arab and Israeli leaders I’ve covered as a reporter in the Middle East in two crucial respects: He could stand in the other guy’s shoes, and he was determined to let the future bury the past and not let the past bury the future.
You don’t meet many leaders in the Middle East anymore about whom you could say either thing. Most have become so hard-bitten that they have completely lost their ability to empathize with anyone other than their own tribe, and most have become so cynical that they use Peres’s aspiration about one day birthing “a new Middle East” as a laugh line.
Peres was not naïve. He is generally recognized as the architect of Israel’s nuclear weapons program — after he became director general of the Ministry of Defense at age 29! He held many different cabinet positions over the years, including prime minister, before becoming president. He knew that the Middle East was not Scandinavia — that Israel faced merciless enemies and that the Jews could carve out and sustain their own state in such a region only if they, too, were merciless when they had to be. But he doggedly refused to let the story end there.
The physicist Amory Lovins likes to say when people ask him if he is an optimist or a pessimist: “I am neither — because they are just two different forms of fatalism.” The optimist says things have to get to better, and the pessimist says things have to get worse. “I believe in applied hope,” says Lovins. Things can get better, but you have to make them so. That perfectly describes Shimon Peres’s approach to politics and life.
Peres believed in applied hope, and he never stopped applying it. He had no respect for the pessimists. It was partly because he was onto their shtick. That is, he knew their pessimism often was a cover for a right-wing political agenda that wanted to keep the conflict frozen where it was, that wanted to believe that nothing that Israel said or did could ever influence the other side, so Israel should never take any initiative for peace.
And it was partly because he had lived the miracle of the Jewish people over the last century — saw how they had built a modern, high-tech state out of the ashes of the Holocaust and knew that if that wasn’t a proof case for the power of applied hope then nothing was.
I have always had a soft spot for leaders who are able to change late in life. And Peres was one such person. The man who in earlier incarnations had been responsible for building so many of Israel’s walls came to believe that its true security could be achieved only by webs — it could come only if Israel could be woven into a web of relationships with the Palestinians and with its Arab neighbors.
That is what inspired him to partner with Yitzhak Rabin and Yasir Arafat to forge the Oslo Peace Accords. But that treaty came unstuck because Arafat wasn’t really committed to giving up the armed struggle and later Israeli leaders weren’t really committed to giving up settlements in the West Bank and Gaza — settlements that Peres’s own Labor Party had had a hand in originating and then lost control over.
正是这种信念，激励佩雷斯与伊扎克·拉宾(Yitzhak Rabin)和亚西尔·阿拉法特(Yasir Arafat)一齐打造了《奥斯陆协议》(Oslo Accords)。然而，阿拉法特并不愿放弃武装斗争，而以色列领导人随后也不愿放弃约旦河西岸与加沙地带的定居点——佩雷斯所在的工党参与催生了定居点计划，后来又对其失去控制。于是，协议逐渐解体。
In recent years, Peres discussed with me several times what he might do to revive the Saudi peace initiative — for full peace between Arab states and Israel in return for full withdrawal from the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem — which King Abdullah first unveiled in this column in 2002. But none of the sparks we tried to light ever grew into a flame. Too many people had become invested in the idea that there must not be, and could never be, a new Middle East.
No matter, Peres was never deterred, never flagged in his desire to apply hope — if it couldn’t be full peace then let it be a joint water project, solar project or internet project.
He was the youngest 93-year-old you ever met.
Indeed, my teacher and friend Dov Seidman, the C.E.O. of LRN, which helps business and other leaders navigate ethical issues, took his 8-year-old son, Lev, to Israel for his first time in August, and told me this story.
“I wanted Lev’s first experience of Israel to be an indelible one,” recalled Seidman, “so on his first day — just a few weeks ago, last August 31 — I brought him to meet someone who I believed truly personified the hope, strength, and spirit of Israel — with all of its dreams, ideals, and tensions — President Shimon Peres. Little did I know that it would be one of his last meetings.”
Peres, Seidman added, “was gracious enough to meet with my son and wife and me at the Peres Center for Peace in Tel Aviv. We talked about the power and potential of humanity to surprise, evolve and inspire. At one point Peres turned to my son and said, “Elephants, they’re like computers. They have the biggest memories. They remember everything. But they have no imagination. That’s what’s special about being human.”
塞德曼还说，佩雷斯“十分慷慨地在特拉维夫的佩雷斯和平中心(Peres Center for Peace)接见了我的儿子和我们夫妻。我们谈了权力问题，还有人类让人惊叹、演进和鼓舞他人的潜能。有那么一会儿，佩雷斯转头对我儿子说，‘大象呢，就跟电脑一样。它们有最惊人的记忆，记得每一件事，但它们没有想象力。那才是让人类特殊的地方。’”
At one point, though, Seidman said, he asked Peres to share with his son, “how, after 93 years of life, he stayed so young.”
“Lev,” Peres said, “every day I wake up and I count my achievements.” Seidman then interjected, “And son, President Peres has had countless extraordinary achievements.” They both laughed.
But Peres wasn’t done. He continued telling Lev, “And then I count the dreams I have in my head. As long as I have more dreams in my head than achievements, I am young.”