Those who gave a standing ovation to Shimon Peres were applauding a distinguished statesman. Over his illustrious career, he has worked to achieve peace for the Middle East.
Shimon Peres was awarded a Nobel Prize for Peace in 2000 as a result of his work on the 1993 Oslo Accords with the PLO. Becoming prime minister after the assassination of Prime Minister Yizhak Rabin, he continued the controversial work of his predecessor to strive for a lasting peace. Unfortunately, the reality of the Middle East situation has forced him to make tough decisions.
It is important to understand that Israel’s actions do not exist in a vacuum. The tragic death of civilians in places like Qana are unfortunate consequences of a war of self-defense. Throughout its history, Israel has been in a constant state of war with many of its Arab neighbors and has had to choose its response carefully to survive. Today is no exception.
Israel has acted to give peace an opportunity to flourish. In the year 2000, Israel disengaged from Lebanon with the belief that occupying Lebanon hurt Israel’s political and security interests. This policy of disengagement was continued five years later when Israel withdrew fully from the Gaza Strip and released plans for exiting parts of the West Bank.
And yet, since the disengagement from Gaza, attacks on Israel have not stopped. Qassam missiles have been launched by Palestinians into southern Israel. Hamas members even crossed Israeli borders to kidnap a soldier. Any other nation would consider such an action to be an act of war. The situation in the north is no different. Despite Israel’s disengagement, Hezbollah members stockpiled weapons and entered Israel and kidnapped two Israeli soldiers, sparking the conflict this summer.
If the occupations were and are in fact the cause of Arab angst with Israel, why would terrorists choose the path of war when their request for an end to the occupation had been granted?
Additionally, it seems difficult to believe that the 1996 events in Qana would be reason to launch a war against Israel, as suggested by the authors of the News column “Peres history contradicts his peaceful image” (12/5). The actions in Qana must be viewed in greater context of the conflict. Israel’s artillery strikes came as a direct result of Hezbollah’s use of rockets. Furthermore, rockets were intentionally placed near civilians in Lebanon as a way for Hezbollah to inoculate themselves against counterattack. This fact does not excuse the tragic death of Lebanese civilians, but rather further demonstrates the complex and delicate position Israel is placed in as a result of the actions of Hezbollah.
With regard to Israel’s unconfirmed nuclear weapons, Shimon Peres himself has made clear that Israel will only use nuclear weapons as a deterrent.
Peres said to President Kennedy, “Israel will not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons to the Middle East.”
Israel has since explained that it will not be the first country to use nuclear weapons in a conflict. This stands in stark contrast to the violent rhetoric of President Ahmadinejad of Iran, who has called repeatedly for the complete destruction of Israel.
Peres’ search for peace continues to this day in the face of militant neighbors. On Aug. 22, he said to the Israeli media, “The Syrians, if they are serious (about peace talks), should come and say, ‘We are interested in holding negotiations.’ ” His remarks hinting at a future peace with Syria further demonstrate his commitment to a diplomatic solution.
In Tuesday’s op-ed on Peres, the authors question the legitimacy of those who support Israel by calling them “knee-jerk” supporters. The authors neglect to mention that there are many valid reasons to support Israel. Among them, Israel is a free and democratic society; offers women, minorities and gays full civil rights; and does not deliberately target civilians.
In his speech at Yale, Peres spoke with optimism and hope about the future. He stressed that while the past has been filled with tragedy and despair, a stable peace may still be achievable in the future.
Sam Yellen is a sophomore in Pierson College and a Caravan for Democracy fellow. Aaron Rothstein is a sophomore in Branford College and a member of Yale Friends of Israel.