People across the world today walk with heavy hearts over the passing of one of the most iconic diplomats of our time. Shimon Peres devoted much of his 93 years to service. As we mourn his death, let us all celebrate his life and the lessons it teaches us all about what statesmanship can and must look like.
First, it is up to all of us to take action. As we watch the endless cavalcade of horrors crossing our twitter feeds and TV screens, each of us can work to effect different outcomes. Peres was born in a small town in Poland in 1923 and, after emigrating to Palestine with his family as a young boy, joined the Jewish underground and began fighting for an independent Jewish state: a dream realized in 1948. Today’s wars take place on battlefields of all kinds, but the lesson we must learn is that it is not up to others to fight for our dreams. We have non-violent means of expression literally at our fingertips and can use them to impact change.
Second, we can turn enemies into allies or at the least reduce tensions. Peace is hard but worth fighting for, and Peres never gave up trying. Over the course of his career, Peres negotiated an interim agreement with Egypt in 1974, helped lay the groundwork for a peace treaty between Israel and Jordan, and won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work crafting the Oslo Peace Accords which have defined over two decades of Israeli – Palestinian policy. While the Oslo Accords have fallen short of where many of us hoped they would lead, Peres worked to design a framework that could have led to the creation of an independent Palestinian state alongside the Jewish state of Israel.
Third, security is not purely a hard defense issue. Over his decades in politics, Peres was Prime Minister three times, finance minister, foreign minister, and deputy defense minister (in his later years he served in the ceremonial role as President). During his decades of service, he personally developed Israel’s cutting edge defense industry. Having worked with my Israeli counterparts on a broad range of defense issues, I have seen the fruits of his labor first hand, including technology that birthed Israel’s impressive missile defense.
However, alongside the high end armaments and surveillance tools the Israeli forces have on hand, Peres also understand that defense is not just about weapons. Instead, as he progressed in age he focused on economic and cultural exchanges between Israelis and Palestinians. By founding the Peres Center for Excellence in 1996, Peres personally highlighted the urgent need to increase engagement and knowledge. The long-term security of Israel and of the Palestinian people will depend on the creation of an independent Palestinian state and a stable Jewish state of Israel, but none of this will be sustainable without greater tolerance and knowledge.
Fourth, you are never too old to keep learning. Just around the time of his 93rd birthday, Shimon Peres took a step that many 80 years his junior embrace: joining Snapchat. Pivoting from his role in the political sphere, Peres became a major supporter of entrepreneurs and start-ups and innovators. He helped to create a nation and was a proponent of helping agile minds create new products and services.
And finally, there are always disagreements in politics, but they can be managed with dignity and respect. Peres spent his life in and out of public service. He had many supporters along with many detractors, some of who slung mud his way. He responded with the grace and sophistication befitting a great statesman. To quote him directly, “ the highest degree of wisdom is integrity,” and it would behoove us all to follow his example.
Samantha Vinograd served in the Obama White House from 2009 – 2013 including as Senior Advisor to National Security Advisor Thomas E. Donilon