In This Review

Battling for Peace: A Memoir
Battling for Peace: A Memoir
By Shimon Peres
Random House, 1995, 350 pp.

Memoirs by politicians, especially those still in office, are bound to be self-serving. But Israel's foreign minister has done more here than settle old scores and enhance his reputation. In dealing with his early career, Peres describes his role in developing Israel's links to France and its nuclear technology. He paints an admiring portrait of David Ben-Gurion and brings to life the mood in Israel in the mid-1950s, when the existence of the Jewish state could still not be taken for granted. Later he discusses the early period of the peace negotiations with Egypt, his rivalry with Yitzhak Rabin, his views on the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, his service as prime minister from 1984 to 1986, and, as his crowning achievement, the talks with the PLO that led to the Oslo Accord in September 1993. He makes a strong case that the secret agreement he negotiated with King Hussein of Jordan in 1987 might have been a breakthrough if it had been better handled by American diplomats and not sabotaged by his own prime minister, Yitzhak Shamir. Others involved in that affair, including George Shultz, give a very different version of events. Therein lies one of the problems with this type of self-serving contemporary history. Which version is closer to the truth?

At times Peres seems to pull his punches unnecessarily. In discussing the Lavon incident of the mid-1950s -- concerning responsibility for an undercover operation in Egypt that involved setting off bombs at American and British installations in order to damage Abdel Nasser's relations with the West -- he provides a great deal of firsthand information but stops short of pointing a finger at the person responsible. When he mentions Israeli settlements in the West Bank, he seems to recognize that they are obstacles to peace, but he nonetheless condones them. He has a few heroes -- Ben-Gurion and Moshe Dayan -- and many adversaries, most notably Israeli hard-liner Ariel Sharon. Throughout, the author remains somewhat elusive -- this is not an autobiography that reveals much that was previously unknown. It is a memoir, but not a solid history. One senses that Peres is trying hard to say to his critics that he is a decent man who has served his country and the cause of peace well.