Former Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Shamir, who earned a reputation as an uncompromising opponent of Palestinian statehood, has died aged 96.
The former soldier, spy and statesman died at a nursing home in Herzliya after a long illness. In a statement announcing his death, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu paid tribute to his “deep loyalty to Israel“.
He said: “He was a paragon of loyalty to the land of Israel and the eternal values of the Jewish people.
“Yitzhak Shamir belongs to a generation of giants, who founded the state of Israel and fought for the freedom of the Jewish people in its land. He led Israel with deep loyalty to both the people and the land.”
As head of the right-wing Likud party, Shamir was prime minister between 1983-84 and 1986-1992. He was known for his firm opposition to the idea of trading occupied land for peace with the Palestinians.
Born in Poland in 1915, Shamir moved to Palestine in 1935. His mother and sisters were killed in the Holocaust.
He joined Lehi, a Jewish movement opposed to British mandatory authorities, and took over leadership after its founder was killed. Shamir was captured twice by British authorities but escaped from two detention camps and returned to resistance action.
After Israel was founded in 1948, Shamir joined the intelligence service Mossad before launching a political career. During his second term as prime minister, he ordered a military solution to the first Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation in 1986.
He embraced the creation of a Greater Israel, encompassing all of the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan river.
Despite his ideology, he reluctantly took Israel into negotiations with its Arab neighbours, which paved the way for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process under his successors.
Following his defeat in the 1992 elections, Shamir retired from politics. In 2001, he was given his nation’s highest civilian honour, the Israel Prize.
EDITOR: You have to laugh… even if it is bitter laugh
It is funny, isn’t it? The Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv has been a UNESCO World Heritage site for years… this is a stretch of some houses built since 1916, in which some banks have their headquarters and rich people of Tel Aviv are languishing in Bauhaus buildings, so it obviously IS a world heritage! The birthplace of Christ so obviously isn’t! And this something that the two world powers, Israel and its junior partner, the USA, are against… Israel (and the USA) never knew what shame was, but now it also lost connection to the real world!
US ambassador condemns Unesco decision to grant protection for Church of the Nativity on site seen as Jesus’s birthplace
Israeli officials have questioned the need for Bethlehem to be registered as an endangered site and see Palestinian moves at Unesco and other UN bodies as an effort to embarrass Israel on the world stage.
Thirteen out of 21 members of the world heritage committee voted in favour of the move at a meeting in St Petersburg. The decision was met by a standing ovation. Six members voted against and two abstained.
The fourth-century Church of the Nativity, built over a grotto where Christian tradition says Jesus was born, needs repairs but the Palestinian Authority, which exercises limited self-rule in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, is short of funds.
The Palestinian Authority’s request included part of the Pilgrimage Route, the path which tradition says Joseph and Mary took into the city in their trek from Nazareth 2,000 years ago.
Palestinians had pointed to what they describe as the dangers of Israeli occupation and cited in particular Israel’s 2002 siege of the Church of the Nativity, where militants took sanctuary during a Palestinian uprising. Violence has subsided in recent years and more than two million people now visit the church annually.
Independent experts sent by Unesco to examine the church recommended turning down the request, saying that while the church roof needed patching up the shrine could not be considered “to have been severely damaged or to be under imminent threat”.
Friday’s meeting in St Petersburg was attended by the Palestinian foreign minister. The Palestinian Authority has viewed its entry into Unesco as a strategic milestone before the broader international recognition it seeks for a future state.
“This gives hope and confidence to our people on the inevitable victory of our just cause,” said the prime minister, Salam Fayyad, in a statement following the decision.
“It increases their determination to continue efforts at deepening readiness for the establishment of an independent state of Palestine, with its capital in East Jerusalem within the 1967 borders,” Fayyad said.
“This is an irresponsible decision,” said Gideon Koren, Israel’s vice-president of the International Council on Monuments and Sites. The US ambassador to Unesco, David Killion, said he was “profoundly disappointed by the decision”.
The Palestinian government plans to register about 20 more sites with Unesco, including the ancient city of Jericho and the archaeological site of Sebastia, and has dismissed Israel’s accusations.
“Our goal is to preserve and safeguard these sites in spite of the threat from Israeli occupation,” Hanan Ashrawi, head of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation’s department of culture and information, said.
Last year, Unesco granted the Palestinians full membership, a decision seen at the time as a boost to their bid, since largely stalled, to win unilateral statehood recognition from the United Nations in the absence of peace talks with Israel.
Israel and the US, which subsequently cut off its $80m (£50m) annual funding of Unesco, condemned the decision, saying peace negotiations – which collapsed in 2010 – were the only path to a Palestinian state. (Writing by Gleb Bryanski; Editing by Louise Ireland)