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Funeral Held For Former Israeli Leader And Founding Father Shimon Peres


It has been remarked often this week that Shimon Peres was for most of his career a man mistrusted by the people of his country as a political schemer, as a career civilian politician in an era dominated by retired generals. Only late in life as president of the state of Israel, an office of symbolic leadership, did he enjoy the love of Israelis. The Israeli columnist Nahum Barnea has written about Peres for many years and joins us from Tel Aviv. And, Nahum Barnea, how do you sum up what Shimon Peres meant to the people of Israel?

NAHUM BARNEA: We have to take into account that his career was really long. I mean, you know, because he was for 75 years a politician. So we are talking about a man who had a very long road. And the - in this role, you had a lot of circles and U-turns. I mean, you know, half of his career, you know, he was a very prominent member of the right-wing of the labor movement. And quite late in life, he became the leader of a more dovish, left-wing constituency, so he was hated by the left many years, and later on he was hated by the right.

SIEGEL: But was that a profound change on his part? I mean, did he - a man who had advocated settlements on the West Bank and then came to advocate territorial compromise, was that a deep, sincere change for him?

BARNEA: Yeah, yeah. It was a sea-change in - on the one hand, and at the same time, he was consistent. And I have to explain. It was a sea-change because at some point in his life when he belonged to the opposition, and Menachem Begin was our prime minister, he somehow was led to become the leader of the left. And he was convinced that Israel will never be secure if Israel is not going to have peace with all its neighbors.

So in the '80s, he started to work hard first to have peace with the Palestinians through Jordan and later on with the PLO, with Arafat and the leadership of the Palestinian movement. Now, this was a sea-change. Now, at the same time, he was consistent in the sense that he always believed that there is a solution to the conflict.

SIEGEL: Explain this to us, Mr. Barnea, that at the point in his career when Peres was president of Israel - already 90 years old and an elder statesman and much beloved - by that time, it seemed that the ideas he had advanced in his later years of peace and settlements - those seemed to be supported by fewer and fewer Israelis even as he was more and more popular.

BARNEA: Yeah. I can explain because he is the brains of Israel. You know, the president in Israel has no really executive powers. So he served more as a symbol of the positive side. To be serious, all Israelis want peace. The debate is over the question how much we should give in order to get peace. And the other question is whether we have a partner or not. So Peres in this respect belonged to a minority. But the fact that he wanted peace, made him more popular because people believed that he is looking - he's eager to improve the situation of the state of Israel. He worked for a better future. In other words, as a dreamer, he was very popular. As an executive, he was not.

SIEGEL: Nahum Barnea, columnist for the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth spoke to us from Tel Aviv. Thank you very much for talking with us today.

BARNEA: My pleasure. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.