Peres: From Arms Dealer to Statesman


By Shimon Peres

Random House,

350 pp., $25

Shimon Peres's life and career are so inextricably intertwined with the formation and history of the modern state of Israel that the enigma of his own life often reflects the abiding paradox of its very existence in a largely hostile Arab world.

From Israel's chief arms dealer to Nobel Peace Laureate, Peres tells his compelling story with the confidence of one who has never had any doubts about his identity or his mission. It's the extraordinary story of one of Israel's most prominent statesmen.

Peres comes across as an enigmatic blend of insider and loner, activist and dreamer, idealogue and pragmatist.

In "Battling For Peace: A Memoir," Peres takes the reader through the most dramatic moments in Israel's short but tumultuous history. These include the building of Israel's arms and nuclear industries, the 1956 Anglo-French-Israeli campaign against Egypt over the Suez Canal, the 1967 six-day war, the legendary rescue of Israeli hostages from Uganda's Entebbe airport in 1976, and the secret talks in Oslo in 1993 leading to the historic - if troubled - accord with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO.)

A protege and confidant of David Ben-Gurion, founder of Israel and its first Prime Minister. Peres was Labor Party leader for 15 years. He served as Prime Minister (1984-86), Defense Minister (1974-77) and Foreign Minister (1992-present).

During his short term as Prime Minister, his major foreign policy accomplishment was that he engineered and presided over Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon. On the domestic side, he conquered rampant inflation which threatened the country's economy.

He enlightens the reader about his adversarial relationship with former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir and his life-long rivalry with Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin which, he now insists, has been laid to rest. Peres does not mince his words.

The story of his transition from uncompromising hawk to ardent peace advocate is the story of Israel's own transition from a beleaguered Jewish nation to a modern state which has won recognition for its right to exist from three former adversaries - Egypt, Jordan, and the PLO.

He is in many ways the antithesis of the stereotype of the tough, down-to-earth Palestinian Jew.

"My childhood embraced the old-style piety of my grandparents' home, the modern culture and Zionism of my parents' generation, and the blue skies and citrus orchards of Eretz Yisrael, which filled my own imagination from my earliest years," Peres writes about his childhood in the Polish village of Vishneva where he grew up.

He was 13 when his parents emigrated to Palestine in 1936.

An urbane, sensitive intellectual, Peres has used his wits and insights to develop a style of diplomacy which usually outsmarts opponents and often results in his being the target of resentment. But he is unburdened by liberal sentimentality and operates from a moral code based on what he sees as best for Israel and the Jewish people.

"Being Jewish means belonging to a people that is both a chosen people and a universal people. My greatest dream is that our children, like our forefathers, do not make do with the transient and the sham but continue to plow the historic Jewish furrow in the field of the human spirit."

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