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Shimon Peres z”l

Shimon Peres, who made aliyah with his family to pre-state Palestine in 1934 and whose life in many ways embodied the history of modern Israel, has died at the age of 93.

After the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, Peres became acting prime minister of Israel. The following year, in the one and only Israeli election with separate voting for prime minister, I was proud to vote for Peres. But he very narrowly lost to Benjamin Netanyahu.

Peres’s loss can probably be traced to the dashing of hopes for peace with the Palestinians in the months leading up to the election. Ironically it may have been Peres’s approval of the assassination of Hamas bombmaker Yahya Ayyash (“The Engineer”) in January 1996 that cost him the election.

The entirely deserved death of Ayyash led to a wave of retaliatory bombings by Hamas that killed dozens of Israeli civilians. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat appeared unable or unwilling to crack down on Hamas in any serious way. This enabled Netanyahu and his supporters to argue that the Oslo peace accords which Peres negotiated as foreign minister and strongly backed were making Israel less secure.

If Peres had won the 1996 election, would the chances for a durable two-state solution have been any better? There is reason to be dubious. But I always believed that Peres balanced his wish for peace with a hard-headed understanding of Israel’s need for security.

A socialist Zionist from his youth, Peres courted his future wife Sonya with romantic readings of “Das Kapital.” It must have been effective, because they were married from 1945 until her death in 2011.

Zichrono livracha. May his memory be a blessing.

Update: A nice tribute to his friend from President Obama.