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Israel's "Most Revered and Controversial Statesman," Shimon Peres, Dies at 93

Julie Stahl, Chris Mitchell : Sep 28, 2016  CBN News

One of Israel's founding fathers, Peres' life spanned the entire history of modern Israel.

(Israel)—[CBN News] Israel has lost its most revered and controversial statesman. Shimon Peres, former president, prime minister and Nobel Prize winner, died at age 93 after suffering a massive stroke two weeks ago. (Photo via Times of Israel)

World leaders are planning to attend Peres funeral at Jerusalem's Mount Herzl cemetery Friday, among them President Barack Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, former President Bill Clinton and presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, British Prime Minister Theresa May, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, expressed deep personal sorrow over Peres' passing.

Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky said Peres cared deeply about the Jewish nation-state and its people.

"Throughout his many roles in Israel's leadership and over many years, Peres was always driven by a deep sense of responsibility toward the entire Jewish people," Sharansky said in a statement. "He concerned himself with the fate and future of the entire nation, but also with each of its sons and daughters, both near and far."

President Obama hailed Peres as a one of the few people who had changed "the course of human history, not just through their role in human events but because they expand our moral imagination and force us to expect more of ourselves."

When Peres first fell ill, Gordon Robertson, CEO of the Christian Broadcasting Network, hailed him as the type of leader the world needs more of today.

"He has given all peace-loving people around the world hope in some of our bleakest hours, working tirelessly to build bridges and forge alliances many thought impossible," he said. "He is truly a man of peace. He is also a man of great strength and resolve who has stood with an iron fist against countless acts of anti-Semitism, drawing from his own story and fighting endless efforts to disenfranchise the Jewish people."

"Israel and our world need his type of leadership now more than at perhaps any other time in my memory," Robertson added.

A look back
One of Israel's founding fathers, Peres' life spanned the entire history of modern Israel. Born in Poland in 1923, Peres immigrated to Israel at the age of 11. And when Israel was reborn as a nation in 1948, Peres was there. 

"Both critics and admirers will agree that for the next seven decades he played a major role in the country's leadership," Israeli historian and author Michael Widlanski told CBN News.

"Shimon Peres has one of the most unique stories in Israel's history. He's been on the political scene for 70 years. He has a political life that's longer than Moses—more than 40 years in the desert. And he's been all over the canvas politically," Widlanski said. 

"He was with David Ben Gurion. He was a security hawk and then toward his closing years, he's been very much a security dove—somebody who believes in concessions," Widlanski continued.

Oslo Accords
Peres is best known as the secret architect of the Oslo Accords in the early 1990s, which kick-started the "peace process" between Israel and the Palestinians. He won a Nobel peace prize, along with Yasser Arafat, for his efforts.

Widlanski said Peres will be remembered for the good and the bad.

"His place in history is two huge successes and two or three huge mistakes," he explained. "His huge success was that together with Ben Gurion he set up Israel's reactor and its nuclear program. His further success was in 1976. He, not Yitzhak Rabin, was the person who initiated the Entebbe raid in Uganda. He sent the planes before Rabin actually approved."

Peres began his career as an aide to David Ben Gurion, Israel's first prime minister.  He was a socialist who worked his way up the ranks of the left-wing Labor Party, which ran Israel for decades. (Photo via Haaretz)

Over the years, Peres would serve as defense minister, foreign minister and three times as prime minister and finally as Israel's ninth president, the highest ceremonial office.

"His two huge failures: First of all he was opposed to the Iraqi reactor raid by Menachem Begin in 1981," Widlanski said. That air raid destroyed the reactor just before it went on line. Though Israel was condemned at the time, the U.S. and others praised Israel for its foresight when they invaded Iraq a decade later after the terror attacks on the U.S. on 9/11.

"And his biggest failure is the Oslo Accords—the deal with the PLO, which he naively believed would bring peace to Israel, brought more harm, more terror than anything ever before," Widlanski added.

A 'Settler' Early On
What is perhaps less well known is that Peres was among those who tried to establish the first Israeli settlement on the ruins of Sebastia in the northern west bank in 1974.

Ironically, that ideology of settling the land was what he wanted to uproot in the Oslo Accords, nearly two decades later.

"His natural impulse and his advisors were to make a huge deal that would bring peace in our time, like Neville Chamberlain. And like Neville Chamberlain, Peres naively believed that. He wasn't evil; he was wrong," Widlanski added.

CBN founder Pat Robertson interviewed Peres in his office in 1984. It seems some things haven't changed.

"The U.S. and Israel have reached a new strategic understanding, how would you enlarge on those initiatives?" Pat asked.

"You know, everybody talks about American aid to Israel ... When I see the difference between the United States and Soviet Russia—to define it in a nice way—I would say the United States is seeking peace in the Middle East.  The Soviet Russians are trying to get a piece of the Middle East. And that's the real difference," he said.

Widlanski and others described Peres as a man of tremendous optimism and drive. 

"Sometimes that was well-founded, sometimes it wasn't. He did some great things for the State of Israel for which he should be remembered positively. He had a couple of huge errors from which we are suffering today," he explained. "But he tried hard and he did it usually for the good of the state, married to his own ambitions, like many politicians."

One way or the other, all would admit that with Peres' passing, it's the end of an era in Israel.

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