On behalf of the opposition, I rise to support this condolence motion, to express Labor’s deep sadness at the passing of Shimon Peres, and to join with the government in expressing, as Senator Brandis has, our sadness at his passing. Shimon Peres was a former President and Prime Minister of Israel and a former leader of Israel’s Labor Party. He was a Nobel Peace Laureate and a recipient of the US Congressional Medal of Honor. But Shimon Peres was much more than the offices he held and the honours he was awarded. He was a towering figure, both in his own nation and in the international community, both in the 20th and the 21st centuries. He was a statesman and a leading social democrat. He was a political leader with an unwavering commitment to Israel’s security and also to peace in the Middle East.
He was a remarkable person: a pillar of Israel’s national security leadership who became a passionate peacemaker, a hard-headed realist yet an eternal optimist, a master of political intrigue yet a believer in high-minded principle, a manager and a dreamer. It has been said that he was one of the youngest 93-year-olds on the planet and that he was as full of contradictions and complexity as the vibrant society he served. His death marks the passing of the last of the founders of the modern state of Israel, and that in itself is a remarkable fact given that David Ben-Gurion declared the establishment of Israel in 1948. It reflects his great age at his passing and his precocious abilities at the start of his career.
Shimon Peres Shimon was born in Poland in 1923. When he was 11 his family, like so many, fled persecution in the old world of Europe by immigrating and settling in Tel Aviv. He was a Labor Party activist in his teens, an aide to Israel’s leading founder, Ben-Gurion, at 24 and director-general of Israel’s defence ministry by the time he was 30 years old. He was elected to the Knesset in 1959, became a cabinet minister in 1969 and then Prime Minister for the first of his two stints in that office in 1984. Politically, his trajectory involved a steady move to the Left and a transformation from hawk to dove. As foreign minister, Shimon Peres negotiated the historic Oslo peace accords with the Palestinians, signed at the White House in September 1993. For that achievement he shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat.
After Prime Minister Rabin’s assassination, Shimon Peres became prime minister for the second time, but it was a period of political turmoil in Israel. Peres and Labor lost office in 1996 and a new cycle of violence ultimately led to the failure of the Oslo Accords to deliver on their promise. Yet Shimon Peres never gave up. He was elected President of Israel in 2007, a position that he held until 2014 and which he used to campaign for peace. As Natan Sachs of the Brookings Institution has written:
Yet through all the pitfalls of his pursuit of peace, and the disappointments and tragedies that accompanied his journey, he remained a believer in the possibility of coexistence between Israel and its neighbours and in Israel’s potential to transform its reality for the better rather than succumb to cynicism and passivity.
Sadly, Shimon Peres has left this world with his vision of peace for Israelis and Palestinians still to be achieved. Yet we can pay tribute to the memory of a great man. We salute his legacy—modern Israel—and we honour his life lived in the pursuit of peace.