President Shimon Peres these days casually dismisses talk of his return to politics as “mere speculation. I myself never said anything.” He rarely does. He just enjoys the hype. He relishes the buildup, the attention and excitement.
But, despite the thrill and flattery, there really is no way Peres would have fallen for the dubious temptations tossed his way to headline a new Knesset list – perhaps a reborn Kadima – with Tzipi Livni as his number two.
It would have been a perfect pretext to allow Livni to climb down from her claim to top-billing, regardless with whom she might run. Her hubris notwithstanding, she surely never possessed the drawing power to field a ticket exclusively reliant on her own charisma. Any potential running mates are unlikely to yield the primacy to her, based on nothing but her own high self-esteem.
Therefore, Peres definitely is just what her spin doctors might prescribe – a big-time name, for whose sake it would be no dishonor to vacate first slot. At the same time, as a very elder statesman, Peres is presumed to present no long-term political threat. It can get no better – but only for Tzipi.
Trouble is, there’s nothing in it for Peres.
Besides the fact that he has never won a national election, he cannot possibly surpass the renown which titular head-of-state status confers upon him. It’s the ultimate career-culminating rank. It enables him to satisfy his yen for globetrotting, for rubbing shoulders with the international who’s who, the literati and glitterati, the news-makers and opinion-shapers. The world is his oyster and there’s plenty of opportunity for making mischief too, which has always Peres’s particular penchant.It still is. No sooner did PA President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) fleetingly seem to forgo the right to inundate sovereign Israel with millions of so-called Palestinian refugees, then Peres – in flagrant contradiction to the government’s stance – waxed ecstatic about the ostensible breakthrough.
Extolling Abbas’s “courage,” Peres insisted that the Fatah chieftain from Ramallah “proves with his words and his actions that Israel has a true partner for peace.”
This was despite the fact that hot on the heels of the commotion Abbas stirred up (geared to skew Israel’s electoral debate), he reneged on his every word when addressing his home crowd in Arabic.
Even if we assume that Abbas was disingenuous to his own power base, how could he deliver any goods under any deal if he lacks his own people’s backing?
But typically, Peres’s hearing continued to be as selective as ever. Abbas’s instantaneous about-turn appeared to have escaped Peres’s notice. “Abu Mazen,” insisted our president (whose role behooves him to remain above partisan polemics), “has condemned terror and has pledged that under his leadership there will not be a third intifada. He understands very well that the solution to the Palestinian refugee problem cannot be within Israeli territory, in order not to change the demographic makeup of Israel.”
Why credit Abbas with renouncing terror when his controlled media daily glorifies the most heinous of mass-murderers, when terror kingpins become role models in schools whose curricula Abbas determines and when clerics on his payroll fan jihadist ardor? Only Peres knows. Perhaps he assumes that his blandishments alone can sway Abbas (regardless of the fact that the masses reject reconciliation even in Ramallah, to say nothing of fanatic Gaza).
Or it may be that, as in his heyday, Peres just can’t resist putting spokes in the government’s wheels. Whatever discomfits Binyamin Netanyahu delights Peres. Hence Peres took the initiative to phone Abbas and chitchat with him. The attendant publicity boosted Abbas, annoyed Bibi and blew Avigdor Liberman’s fuse.
Great fun, ballyhoo galore but hardly unexpected. Peres stays true to character.
When he campaigned for the presidency in 2007, I wrote: “How Peres would exploit presidential office, given his past predilections, boggles the mind. A Peres presidency would be invitation to intrigue. It’s safe to assume he wouldn’t make do with a figurehead role, but would hyperactively preside over a parallel government and spawn an unimaginable surfeit of inventive visions, plans and proposals. Their common denominator would be the increasing Palestinization of this land and dangerous compromising of what Golda Meir called ‘the Jewish national interest.’”
There was plenty since then to vindicate this forecast. Peres’s extracurricular activities do tirelessly proliferate. Moreover, they appear remarkably déjà vu.
Thus in 2010 Ha’aretz (which fully approves of the president’s hijinks) reported that “Talks have recently been under way to arrange a summit meeting in Rome between President Shimon Peres and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. The talks have reportedly been carried out without the involvement or even the knowledge of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, whom Abbas has persistently refused to meet.”
Peres’s same old modus operandi? It doesn’t matter if anything materialized from the sensation. The buzz sufficed to set the proverbial cat among the pigeons, which is maybe all Peres was after at the time.
Another news story from nearly three years ago informed us that “Peres, who is working overtime as super-foreign minister… has held private talks recently with political figures, in which he is pushing, as only he knows how, for the co-option of Kadima into the government to enhance Netanyahu’s diplomatic maneuverability.”
Why? Ha’aretz elaborated that Peres “has been making statements to the effect that Netanyahu cannot advance the peace process with the present coalition government controlled by the right wing.” Get It? Peres chronically dropped hints that he dislikes the composition of a legally constituted government and would welcome changes to the legitimate status quo.
He dynamically ingrains the impression of a two-pronged Israeli government. He represents the high-minded, forward-thinking variant, whereas its counterpart is both benighted and inept. Netanyahu’s government isn’t distinctly pro-peace (if not worse) whereas Peres’s is on the side of the angels and has their sanction to present Netanyahu with faits accomplis.
After all, Peres is a dab-hand at engineering facts. Long before his own presidency and Netanyahu’s premiership, Peres pursued furtive assignations during the tenures of two premiers. Covertly, behind the backs of both, he conspired in violation of every conceivable democratic principle.
Three years pre-Oslo, in 1990 – when Israel was governed by the second unity coalition under Yitzhak Shamir – Peres (then already not for the first time) engaged in unauthorized freelance negotiations.
When Shamir rejected Peres’s ultimatum (hatched with the infamous James Baker), Peres plotted to bring down Shamir’s government, which he did. To Peres’s exasperation, however, he subsequently failed to put together a substitute coalition. Yitzhak Rabin, who branded Peres “an unrelenting underminer,” dubbed this “the stinking maneuver.”
Ironically, when Rabin later won the premiership, recidivist Peres sidetracked him too, as he had Shamir. The difference was that Shamir fired Peres, whereas Rabin fell for the Osloite chimera.
Almost 2,000 Israelis were murdered, and thousands maimed for life. Stretches of historical homeland were relinquished and strategic assets surrendered to genocidal enemies, whom Peres imported here by the tens of thousands from Tunis as per the Oslo Accords.
Some 150,000 hostile Arabs were added onto Israel’s population to further “family reunions” under Oslo. Those who made egregious concessions to still-implacable foes dramatically exacerbated Israel’s demographic distress, the very one which purportedly served as their pretext for the Osloite machination in the first place.
Peres’s “New Middle East,” Oslo subterfuge and derivative Nobel Peace Prize earned him prodigious accolades from chic international cheerleaders. Yet here, in the sands of the reprobate Mideast, Oslo caused Arab aspirations to replace Israel and the delegitimization of Israel’s very existence to be tolerated as never previously in the valued venues of Peres’s social conquests.
Peres conferred respectability upon Fatah and ushered in Hamas rampages. In pre-Oslo days there was less call for targeted strikes, road blocks, security fences and suchlike image-tarnishing measures. There was more peace prior to Peres’s peace.
Where Peres is concerned, unremitting vigilance is of paramount importance. No one has the right to be surprised. Peres’s irrepressible tinkering is every bit as predictable as were the unmitigated debacles of his pet Oslo project and of all its defeatist direct offshoots.
Just as foreseeable was that the unilateral 2000 escape from Lebanon would invigorate Arab hostility, that the unilateral withdrawal from Gush Katif in 2005 would embolden terror as never before and facilitate Gaza’s takeover by the most extreme of radicals. No powers of prophesy were needed to figure out that constant pullbacks from previously held negotiating positions, and unceasing retreats from hitherto consensual “red lines,” would bring war closer and render accommodation more distant.
All these were as eminently inevitable as are Peres’s compulsory meddling, uncontainable prestige-craving, obsessive love of the limelight and infatuation with center stage.
The aforementioned paid off too handsomely to remotely entice Peres to even consider a last campaign run with Tzipi. No other Israeli can boast Peres’s celebrity in the world’s long-established and ever-expanding haunts of anti-Israeli bon ton. Much as they revile us there, they are likely to applaud him.
Peres is the indubitable darling of the world’s trendiest and most beautiful headliners. How diametrically opposed is the affection showered upon him to pejoratives like “hardline,” “intransigent,” or “inflexible” that always accompanied Golda’s name (though she hardly headed a government which Peres could have described as right-wing).
Years ago Golda explained to me why she was so unloved internationally. “It’s so easy to win the world’s love,” she observed. “Just do as they wish. If you don’t, they’ll hate you.”
She shrugged: “What can I do? The world isn’t enamored of the Jewish national cause. The more you insist on Jewish interests, the less popular you’ll be and vice versa.”
Unlike her nemesis Peres, Golda preferred to be hated and diagnosed as hopelessly afflicted with “the Masada Complex.” She herself traced her outlook back to her early childhood memories of bloody pogroms in the Czarist pale of Jewish settlement, which impelled her family to flee to America. Her personal trauma was also the seminal trauma of several Jewish generations.
But what is all that to Peres? Another dispensable truth that can be scarified in his charm offensive. Thus he has just profusely thanked Russian President Vladimir Putin, on yet another junket, for “a thousand years of Russian hospitality to Jews.”
Nothing, but absolutely nothing, will dissuade Peres from making nice.