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by Rhonda Spivak, June 4, 2017

[Editor's note: The article below was written 10 years ago on the 40th anniversary of the Six-Day War when I heard Shimon Peres speak when he was a member of Kadima and Ehud Olmert was Israeli Prime Minister.  Excepts from the article are being reprinted in memory  of Shimon Peres] 




The outdoor setting at the Interdisciplinary Centre (IDC) in Herzylia, with its stately  trees and manicured lawns is idyllic.  The guest of honour, Shimon Peres, strides gracefully to the main podium to address the international conference marking the 40th anniversary of the six-day-war, which took place on March 28-30, 2007.


Ofra Even, the  thirty-something year old Ashkenazi woman, and daughter of Israeli diplomats,  who is seated beside me says “Look how straight Peres stands. Look how good he looks  for his age.” She pauses and says “Even if he has had a facelift.”   


The array of European diplomats with whom Peres stops to chat and shake hands clearly adore him.  He is treated like a  King.  The attitude towards him on the streets of Israel may be very different, but that hardly seems to matter here.  Peres meets the 15 rectors of universities from the former Soviet union who have flown in especially for the conference.  “I must go see the Russians”, he says to the diplomats seated at his table.  “It’s always important, you know, to keep the Russians happy.”


Peres is introduced by Professor Uriel Reichman, the IDC’s president, as “the captain of our ship, who has always tried to steer the way through stormy waters.”  Peres opens his address, by saying “If you would have asked me 40 years ago if I could go and speak before 15 rectors from Russia, I would say it was a dream.”


Peres says the six-day war was a “brilliant military success”, but “we never learned to translate the victory of the war into peace…”   He notes “We assembled so many cards by the end of the six day war…We forgot how to play them…If we’d played them right maybe we wouldn’t have remained in the territories…The army never went to conquer the West Bank.”


After the military victory, Peres says that from a diplomatic perspective   “We weren’t clear about the West Bank…In the meantime we enjoyed… Jerusalem and in a way we went to sleep and when we woke up it was too late…When we conquered the West Bank, we were conquered by the West Bank.  It’s not one- way traffic.”


According to Peres, governments can be good at waging wars “because if you are attacked the enemy unites you.”  But in his view “When it comes to peace, governments aren’t so good…there are different parties…they want peace, but not at any price…As a negotiator you know that you don’t [want to] win too much, because if you do, you’ll lose your partner.  But I can’t tell that to the people.”

“Peace is like love. If you want to have it, you have to close your eyes a little bit.  Otherwise, you’ll never have it,” Peres says.
In Peres’s view, “personalities are decisive” in creating situations and setting the course of historic events.  He cites the examples of Egyptian leaders Nasser and Sadat to prove his point.


“There was a man, Gamel Abdul Nasser, who was charming…When he came to power, we thought spring had arrived in Israel…We thought he would be the Arab leader to make peace, but we were disappointed.  Nasser said if I shall do it, I will be assassinated…As great as his promise was, so was his disappointment… The war [in1967] was won in the first two hours.  We destroyed the Egyptian air-force. The only one who wasn’t aware of it was Gamel Abdul Nasser. When he learned, it was too late for him, Jordan, and everyone else. Then [after the war] Nasser says how can I make peace, they’ll try to kill me.  Nassar was bad at war and bad at peace”, Peres says.


Peres recalls that when Anwar Sadat took power, “[We in Israel] said who is Sadat ? A pale man. He can’t do anything. Nobody expected him to do it but he took the most daring decisions.  He expelled Russia, he attacked Israel [in the Yom Kippur War], and he made peace [at Camp David in 1977]… He made three unbelievable decisions.  Sadat was a real leader…So I conclude, personalities are decisive.”

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.