Published in The Jerusalem Post and Israel Hayom, January 31, 2014.
Shimon Peres plans to come roaring back into Israeli politics this summer (when his term as President ends), as the country’s shadow prime minister, to press Netanyahu on the Palestinian issue and to “save” Israel – as only he can. I say that President Peres should bow out gracefully; stop contradicting Netanyahu; and leave the ship of state to today’s elected political leaders.
The State of Israel owes Shimon Peres incalculable credit for building Israel’s defense industry and nuclear option. Mr. Peres has been a fine president of Israel too. He restored luster and prestige to the position, and earned respect for Israel around the world.
Peres also has largely played by the rules of the game, whereby Israel’s figurehead president is supposed to back the elected governments of the State of Israel, and keep his personal political views to himself.
But this month, Peres began to speak out independently on the peace process, violating the protocol that attains to his symbolic position. Peres pronounced that Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state is unnecessary. He even called this an “odd demand” and an impediment to the US-mediated peace talks.
This expressly contradicts Netanyahu’s signature diplomatic stance, and undercuts one of the government’s key negotiating positions.
But Peres just can’t help himself. He is chomping at the bit, dying to be free of his golden Presidential handcuffs. He can’t wait even one more minute with the undermining and weakening of Netanyahu. He already is taking the gloves off, readying for a fight.
And if President Peres is shedding his silk gloves, I can too, with apologies.
You see, the wily Mr. Peres has no plans to retire when his term as President of Israel ends this summer. He plans to come roaring back into Israeli politics. Call it his second (or third, or fourth, or fifth) coming.
When Peres is released from the shackles of formal office he intends to set himself up as Israel’s shadow prime minister and foreign minister. He intends to fervently and aggressively advance his ideas for peace with the Palestinians – and to wedge Benjamin Netanyahu against the wall.
Peres will strike blue-ribbon commissions to “study” and reach the conclusions that Peres himself came to years ago about the “urgent” need to establish a full-fledged Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital. He’ll convene the biggest and most-highly-publicized international conferences we’ve ever seen, with titanic intellectuals, academics, politicians and military men – all meant to wedge Netanyahu against the wall.
There will be no more of the namby-pamby Peres-sponsored presidential “Tomorrow” conferences, where cool entrepreneurs, airy philosophers, and hip sexologists talked nonsense about “bottling the Jewish genius” and “generating the leaders of tomorrow.” Instead, expect an aggressive, focused Shimon Peres with a killer-instinct, out to create Palestine, remake the Middle East, and save Israel – as only he can.
The ninety-year-old Peres is unlikely to again try his hand at the polls. He won’t run for Knesset himself, but is sure to be a driving force behind new Israeli political slates that seek to challenge Netanyahu in national elections.
Think of the relationship between the Shas political party and its longtime rabbinical patron, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. Think of “Rabbi” Shimon Peres, the high priest of peace and the spiritual patron of the next attempt to unseat Netanyahu from the Left.
Of course, Peres has every right to re-enter the political arena with full force, unseemly as that may be. He doesn’t have to adopt the American custom where past presidents fade into the background. (You don’t hear, for example, George W. Bush challenging the domestic or foreign policies of his successor Barack Obama, despite the disastrous dimensions of Obama’s tenure).
The real problem with the resurrection of Shimon Peres as a diplomatic guru for Israel is that he has been wrong all along, and terribly so.
Peres’ blunders began when he promised that if only Israel recognized the PLO and treated the organization as a partner for peace, it would fight terrorism. Then he informed us that Arafat couldn’t really combat the bad guys unless the PLO leader controlled territory; and then more and more territory. After that, Arafat needed more and more arms. Now, according to Peres, Abbas needs a full-fledged state in order to get the job done. And when the Palestinian state emerges it supposedly will be neighborly and docile, and peace will settle upon the Middle East.
Note also that Peres thought the unilateral disengagements from Lebanon and Gaza were swell ideas, along with the destruction of Gush Katif. He opposed the successful raids on Entebbe and Osirak too.
Can’t you just hear the next fallback line? Down the road, Shimon Peres will explain to us that: Yes, the Palestinians have their state, but alas, Israel shouldn’t be surprised that terrorism continues. After all, even the powerful Israeli army couldn’t completely stop terrorism! Perhaps, Peres will yet suggest, the Palestinians need a couple of tanks and combat jets in order to do a better job at eradicating terrorism…
Nevertheless, we Israelis shouldn’t be afraid, Mr. Peres intoned at a conference this week. He still sees a “New Middle East” dawning. He still believes in his very own therapeutic powers to break old hatreds. He still thinks he can press peace into the minds of Palestinians, if only we give him the chance.
After all, Peres actually believes that “science is more important than territory,” and “tourists are more important than tomahawks.” These are two of the many lyrical yet nonsensical mantras that Mr. Peres has coined and prattled ad infinitum over the years. As if Israel can bring peace by withdrawing from the West Bank and importing nano-technology teachers. As if a regional tourism bonanza will calm Al-Qaeda and keep Hamas out of Hebron.
Soon-to-be ex-President Peres should spare us more such questionable diplomatic wisdom, and let his years as President stand as the capstone of his career. Peres should bow out gracefully, and leave the ship of state to today’s elected political leaders. He has had his turn. Enough.