Ezer Weizman: Pioneer for peace

By Akiva Eldar, Haaretz Correspondent In keeping with protocol, Ezer Weizman will be eulogized and go down in history as the seventh president of the State of Israel – a symbolic title, but lacking in significance. Weizman’s main claim to fame was not the seven-year period of service at the President’s Residence, which ended under embarrassing circumstances. Ezer Weizman deserves a place of honor in the area where the leaders of the nation are buried on Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl, alongside two Israeli statesmen, Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Rabin, who forged the road to peace with the country’s neighbors. A man of the Etzel prestate underground movement, founder of the air force, the head of the Israel Defense Forces’ Operations Wing, a military hero, one of the believers in a Greater Israel, Weizman is worthy of being remembered as the one who headed the peace camp vis-a-vis Egypt, and as a pioneer ahead of the peace camp in the Israeli-Palestinian peace arena. When then-prime minister Levy Eshkol hesitated in June 1967 to issue an order to mount an offensive on the Egyptian front, then-major general Weizman threw his ranks in the former’s face. Some 13 years later, in May 1980, when then-prime minister Menachem Begin suspended the autonomy talks with Egypt, Weizman, as defense minister, stepped down from his post. Two months later, he voted against the government and was thrown out of his party, Herut. At the end of 1989, more than three years before then-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin allowed Shimon Peres and Yossi Beilin to begin talks with the Palestine Liberation Organization, Weizman met with PLO official Nabil Ramlawi in Europe. The price that Weizman, the leader of the Yahad faction, was forced to pay at the time was his seat on the security cabinet in the government of Yitzhak Shamir. There will probably be those who find a similarity between the revolution Weizman the Likudnik underwent more than 30 years ago and the change that has taken place in the past year when it comes to Ariel Sharon, who succeeded Weizman at the Defense Ministry. A comparison of this kind would be unfair to Weizman. At the end of 1978, decades before Sharon decided to evacuate a handful of settlements in the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank, Weizman threw down the gauntlet to Begin and his settlement minister, Sharon. As defense minister, Weizman berated the members of Gush Emunim and gave an order for the forceful evacuation of its hard-core supporters from a settlement outpost in the Nablus area. Even when he came up with his plan to establish six or seven towns on the eastern slopes of Samaria, Weizman promised that Jewish citizens would not settle on the appropriated lands of the Arab neighbors. In June 1979, when the government decided to establish a Jewish community in Alon Moreh, in the heart of Samaria, Weizman took the podium at the Herut conference and declared, on the very eve of the settlement’s inception: „You can’t spend your entire life proving to the world that you are a settler only because it is important for security. This is a distortion of Zionism.” A few months later, when Sharon called for an Israeli response to the murder of Yehoshua Salome in Hebron, and the occupation of five houses in the city as an „appropriate Zionist response,” Weizman said that „we have not come to this city of the forefathers to take the place of its Arab residents.” He voted against the proposal to establish a yeshiva in the city and urged against „barging into areas that have a dense Palestinian population.” Weizman must be remembered as the most senior Israeli right-winger to cross the political line. The Yom Kippur War catastrophe and Anwar Sadat’s peace message led the proud pilot, a symbol of Israeli machismo, to new pastures. If Weizman left a final request on the political front, one can assume he asked that the peace with Egypt and Jordan be guarded at all costs, and that every effort be made to find the key to a fair agreement with the Palestinians. Weizman was aware of the value of force, but he also knew its limitations. BPI-info