ישראל נאמן | Lectures, Articles, Tours: Israel | Mideast onTarget | Elliot Chodoff & Yisrael Ne'eman | Peres: It’s All About Them 30.11.05

Peres: It’s All About Them

30 November 2005

By Yisrael Ne'eman

Watching Shimon Peres suffer indignity and humiliation is heart wrenching, even for those who are not considered his allies. The 82 year old former PM, foreign minister, defense minister and Nobel Peace prize winner barely lost out to Histadrut Labor Union boss in the Labor Party primaries just over two weeks ago. He is apparently willing to leave Labor and cross over to Ariel Sharon’s new Kadima party.

Many explanations have been offered why Peres became the national “Loser” throughout his career, being bested for top spots like prime minister, president and Labor Party chairman on eleven occasions. His loses are attributed to a lack of fine-tuned grass roots organizational abilities, over dependence on opinion polls, an unfocused foresight, the inability to communicate with the public and quite often the wrath of Sephardi and Mizrachi (Oriental) voters towards him as a living reminder of Ben Gurion’s premiership in the 1950s (Peres and BG were very close) when the above mentioned immigrant groups felt alienated from Israeli society.

The issue is much deeper, yet in plain view for all to see. Shimon Peres is a Palestinianist, meaning that no matter what the issue somehow the Palestinians are tied in. Since anyone can remember, all major Jewish/Israeli issues are first connected to making peace with the Palestinians.

There is a well known feminine hygiene product where the advertising slogan is “It’s all about you.” No, it is not about “him” or anyone else. She wants to feel good about herself and deal with her issues, physical, emotional or whatever. When making it to the political summit the message must clearly be, “It’s all about us.” With Peres “it” was always “about them.”

That is not to say Peres has not dedicated his life to Israel’s defense and well being while attempting to make peace. But while negotiating peace he consistently emphasized what was good for the Palestinians. This did not necessarily mean that what was good for them was bad for Israel. The Palestinians and making peace were presented as the primary issue and only afterwards could the Jews expect to advance an agenda.

Peres forced Labor to quit Yitzchak Shamir’s 1990 national unity coalition over Palestinian representation in discussions with the Israeli delegation. Rabin bested Peres in the 1992 Labor primaries by emphasizing security and not peace or the well being of the Palestinians. Peres became foreign minister and the architect of the Oslo Accords – and Rabin signed with Arafat. A month later in October 1993 Peres published his book The New Middle East with a far ranging vision, much of it having to do with Palestinian development. He also spoke of Israeli integration into the Middle East and the benefits to be gained by the Arab world when in cooperation with the Jewish State. Israel would also gain, but the overall impression was that “it,” meaning peace, was good for “them”. Interestingly enough, many Arabs also resented the book, accusing Peres of an economic and technological imperialism.

Replacing Rabin as PM after the notorious assassination of Nov. 1995 he followed through with the Oslo II Interim Accords and the Palestinians gained full autonomy in the West Bank cities (this following Gaza and Jericho in 1994). The process was cut short by the Palestinian terror bombings of late February and early March 1996. Peres was forced to admit on national TV that he had placed his trust in the Palestinian Authority (and Yasir Arafat) to halt terror attacks and ensure Israel’s security. Even the Left raised an eyebrow – the first week of bombings already proved Peres’ strategy to be incorrect, but why did he only take Israel’s security into his own hands after the second week? The Israeli Arab community was furious at him when Lebanese civilians were killed by mistake in the wake of the Grapes of Wrath Operation to halt Hizbollah attacks on Israel’s northern border. He went on to lose the May election to then upstart Benyamin Netanyahu and blamed the debacle on Israeli Arabs for only awarding him 90% of their ballots while too many others stayed home. Somehow the fact that he decisively lost the Jewish vote was of no great interest.

Ehud Barak took the Labor primaries and 1999 elections emphasizing security and the need to withdraw from south Lebanon because it was good for Israel. He declared himself “everyone’s prime minister”. From 1996 until 2001, Peres was sidelined but continued to criticize Israeli policy towards the Palestinians.

During PM Ariel Sharon’s two short lived national unity governments Peres would be foreign minister and just recently “second to the premier” – often handling foreign policy issues. At the Socialist International in 2001 Israel was accused by Yasir Arafat of fictitious crimes against the Palestinians but Peres remained mute. Condemning Arafat and his terrorist accomplices for both words and deeds could damage supposed prospects for peace and be construed as insulting to the Palestinians. With massive terror attacks continuing into 2002 it was more about “them” than it was about “us”.

As of late Peres continued to give the hapless Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) full support despite continued terror attempts and rocket attacks. Abbas is always in need of more time and “we must help him” to help the Palestinians out of their predicament and only then will it help us (maybe?). And of course Israel should work bilaterally and in tandem with the Palestinians.

Sharon understood that if one cannot cut a deal with the Palestinians, then take unilateral steps with US support, hence the withdrawal from Gaza and the northern West Bank this summer. The Bush Administration coordinated policy with the four points: The 1949-1967 armistice lines are not permanent, the security fence is legitimate, Israel has the right to pursue terrorists wherever and there will be no Palestinian refugee return.

In his last defeat, Peres lost the Labor primaries to Amir Peretz who touched a raw nerve with Israelis when turning towards domestic issues, such as jobs, salaries and social welfare despite the fact that he is further to the left on defense and foreign policy. Although with greatly differing political outlooks, both Peretz and Sharon focused on “us” and not on “them.”

Even with the best intentions Peres could not succeed. He could only become a true national leader when his policies put Israel and the Jewish People at the center of all policy considerations and nobody else.