“I’ve been controversial for most of my life. Suddenly I’ve become popular. I don’t know when I was wrong, then or now.”
Shimon Peres’ legacy, just as any other prominent historical figure’s legacy, is up for debate. Did he make Israel safer by helping develop nuclear weapons through deals with France and Germany, or did he make Israel vulnerable with rising terrorist attacks in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem during the 1990’s after signing the Oslo Accords with the PLO? Did he ruin Israel’s chance at peace with the Palestinians with the alleged Qana Massacre in 1996 or, did he make peace with the wrong people? Again, we could debate all day long about Peres’ legacy, but what is indisputable was that he made genuine efforts at peace through proactive and creative gestures.
He did this through meeting with high officials from neighboring Arab countries, whether in secret or high-profile public meetings. For example, he began secret meetings with King Hussein of Jordan which eventually led to their respective governments’ peace agreement in 1994. In 2007, Peres met with the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani where Peres also got the opportunity to discuss Israel’s position in the Middle East to 300 Qatari students. The next year he supposedly met with then Saudi King Abdullah at a UN interfaith conference to discuss a possible regional peace initiative. Lastly, in 2013, Peres spoke via satellite to 29 foreign ministers from Arab and Muslims nations, many of whom had no official relations with Israel, at the Gulf Security Conference in Abu Dhabi. He discussed how Israel can play a role in their common concerns in the Middle East. No minister left the room during his speech and some even applauded.
With all his gestures towards the Gulf states it is no wonder that countries like Oman and Bahrain had representatives attend Peres’ funeral, even though they do not have full diplomatic relations with Israel. There probably would have been more representatives from other Arab nations if there was as much regional optimism for a peace agreement as there was during the 1990’s. As Ghaith al-Omari writes, though “their presence will likely be more low-profile than for Rabin’s funeral twenty years ago…this is more a sign of the post-Oslo times than a rebuttal of their increasingly close ties with Israel in various spheres.” After all, Peres was a big reason why there was that high optimism that brought other representatives, such as from Qatar, to Yitzhak Rabin’s funeral. Shimon Peres truly was a “Jewish Ambassador.”
Peres also attempted to foster peace between the Jewish state and its Arab neighbors through the stroke of the pen and non-profit organizations.
His book, “The New Middle East,” discussed how Israel and the Arab states had economic incentives to normalize with each other at the beginning of the Oslo Accords. He also founded the Peres Center for Peace in 1996, which helps bring Israelis and Palestinians together through interactive activities such as sports.
As we can see, Shimon Peres did not just say he wanted peace in a public speech and signed an agreement. He went out there and he went for it! And we, as in the American Jewish Millennial, have the ability to do so as well!
It is cliche to say that we should help fulfill Shimon Peres’ dream of peace between the Jewish state and its Arab neighbors after he passes away, but there actually is a unique opportunity for my generation in the American Jewish community to make it happen by the same means as Peres did.
The 21st century is a time when studying abroad has been more accessible than ever. More and more university are encouraging their students to study at least one semester abroad. Additionally, US citizenship gives us the privilege to travel virtually anywhere. Israeli Jews do not have this luxury, with the exception of Jordan and Egypt and the Palestinian Territories on Sundays. Thus, the American Jewish youth must take advantage of this!
Some abroad programs include CIEE, Fulbright and Go Overseas. I studied abroad the second semester of my junior year through CIEE in Haifa, Israel, but I was still able to get to know other cultures in the region. We went on many tours through Arab neighborhoods in Israel and even got the chance to go to Jordan for a couple of weekends! Such experiences helped me appreciate the value of visiting and living in other countries. It also motivated me to want to help promote peace between Israel and its neighbors by visiting their respective countries.
Again, Peres did not simply publicly state and sign peace agreements with Jordan and PLO. He did not simply call on the Gulf states to make peace with Israel. He went out there and he met them. We, as the next generation of the American Jewish establishment, with our accessibility and privilege to go abroad, must do the same! We must become “Jewish Ambassadors.”
We can be a part of history. As the coming generation of the American Jewish establishment, we can help make a difference, but we must also be prepared. When we reflect on significant historical events, such as the Oslo Accords, we go over the various factors that made it happen. For example, historians say it was because the PLO went bankrupt and Israelis and Palestinians were able to humanize each other for the previous 20-25 years and wanted to make peace. We can be that history.
When Israel and the Gulf states do make peace, we reflect on it through a historical perspective. We will say they had common enemies in Daesh and a nuclear Iran, but also because the American Jewish Millennial began taking advantage of their privileged accessibility to going abroad to the Gulf states to learn and get to know them. Thus, when the American Jewish Millennial came of age and was running the American Jewish establishment, they were ready to help promote peace between Israel and the Gulf states.
In conclusion, current leaders and philanthropies of the American Jewish community (such as AIPAC, Anti-Defemation League, Combined Jewish Philanthropies ect…) should encourage, and possibly subsidize trips for the American Jewish youth to participate in abroad programs in pro-Western Arab Gulf states such as Qatar. This will prepare the next generation of American Jews to help foster relations between Israel and the Arab Gulf states and fulfill Shimon Peres’ dream in the way he wanted it to happen.
Let us fulfill the Jewish Ambassador’s dream by being Jewish Ambassadors ourselves. Let us seize today so we can be the history of the future.