Ron Pundak, a longtime peace activist and architect of the 1993 Oslo agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, died at home of cancer Friday, aged 59, Haaretz daily reported.
In the early 1990s, with the approval of then foreign minister Shimon Peres, Pundak and fellow Israeli academic Yair Hirschfeld forged a secret channel of communications with the Palestine Liberation Organisation in Norway, at a time when such links were illegal for Israelis.
“The secret channel, nicknamed ‘the academic talks,’ which took place in an Oslo research centre with the approval of Norway’s government, eventually led to the Oslo peace process,” wrote Haaretz.
Coincidentally, Tel Aviv-born Pundak worked briefly as a journalist for the newspaper after obtaining a doctorate from the University of London in 1991.
Peres, now Israel’s president, called him “a warrior for peace until his last breath” in a statement Friday.
“He dedicated his entire adult life to the fight for peace between us and our neighbours,” Peres said.
“The struggle for peace today is not easy, and is surrounded by scepticism, but a believer like him inspired belief and perseverance.”
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Israel’s chief peace negotiator with the Palestinians, called Pundak “a hero for peace” who “believed in peace and strove for it until his last day”.
United Nations Middle East envoy Robert Serry added his own tribute.
“I knew Ron as somebody tirelessly working for peace,” he said in a statement.
“Together with others, he showed that peace is possible, in fact, necessary, even in the face of tremendous setbacks, adversity and scepticism.”
Between 2001-2011 Pundak headed the Peres Center for Peace.
Since last year he was co-chair and president of the Palestinian-Israeli Peace NGO Forum and a member of the committee of the French-based Aix Group, an NGO for Middle East peace centred in Aix-en-Provence.
Pundak is survived by his widow and two children.