International reaction to the death of former Israeli President and Prime Minister Shimon Peres has highlighted a stark gap between the West and the Middle East. While current and former western leaders are fawning over him, those in the Middle East have remained largely silent.
However, media and social media there have been very vocal. This is unsurprising, given that the people of the Middle East are the ones who have had to face the catastrophic consequences of a record that outsiders are now eulogising.
In this respect, Peres has posthumously managed the seemingly impossible, largely uniting a region riddled with divisions. Voices from rival camps – from Gulf states on the one hand, to Iran and Hezbollah on the other – are strongly condemning Peres’ legacy and those who are romanticising it.
Even Egypt’s president and Jordan’s king – whose countries have peace treaties with Israel, and whose predecessors attended Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s funeral – did not issue statements of condolence or attend Peres’s funeral.
That even Israel’s few friends in the region have kept a low profile over his death may well indicate their awareness of the extent of domestic and regional anger over Israeli policies in general, and those of Peres in particular.
That anger is entirely justified. Until his death, no other living figure had had such a prolific role in almost every aspect of Israeli aggression, occupation and colonialism.
Even the aspect of his legacy that is most remembered in Israel and the West – his pivotal role in the Oslo Accords, which began the illusory Israeli-Palestinian “peace process” – is worthy only of scorn. The agreement represented nothing more than a diplomatic fig leaf to relentlessly entrench the occupation and colonisation of Palestine.
The creation of a viable, contiguous Palestinian state is now all but impossible – that can be traced back to the accords, which were ushered in with such misguided fanfare, and an even more misguided Nobel peace prize for Peres.
In effect, he was rewarded for his role in devising a plan that would entail the unending oppression of the Palestinians, and whitewash the blood on his hands.
‘A Zionist and a criminal’
Yet while people throughout the Middle East have been reminding the world of the suffering Peres inflicted on the Palestinians, their own President Mahmoud Abbas attended his funeral and paid tribute to an architect of their oppression.
Peres’s death is “a heavy loss for all humanity and for peace in the region”, Abbas gushed on Twitter.
This earned an apt response from Abdulkhaleq Abdullah, an adviser to Abu Dhabi’s royal court, who tweeted: “Might be a loss to you, but not a loss to humanity, peace, and surely not a loss to the Palestinian People. He was a Zionist and a criminal.”
“The Middle East is ailing,” said Peres. “The most virulent cause” of this “malady” is “the absence of freedom”.
How right he was, and yet how much he invested in denying freedom to the Palestinians, his job – and that of his Israeli peers – made easier by the subservience and obedience of Abbas and his Palestinian Authority.
This was a PR skill that Peres possessed: using soundbites and one-liners to impress and deceive. It certainly worked on Abbas. Palestinians may have wept during Peres’ funeral, not for his passing, but for the sorry spectacle of their president’s attendance, mourning and misplaced loyalty.
Sharif Nashashibi is an award-winning journalist and analyst on Arab affairs.