Akiva Eldar / What would Netanyahu do without Peres?
The president is passing responsibility for failure in peace process on to the Palestinians.
Last spring President Shimon Peres went all the way to the White House to convince the heads of the U.S. administration that "peace is at the top of the agenda" for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Perhaps this is what U.S. President Barack Obama meant when he told Time magazine that, had he foreseen earlier the political problems between the two sides he would have been careful not to place expectations so high.
If the "architect of Oslo" testifies that the man who spared no effort to throw the agreement into the trash bin of history "is seeking a historic peace," why should anyone doubt his intentions? Not long ago, Peres managed to convince even the skeptical Egyptians that before Netanyahu says "good morning" to his wife Sara, he asks her: "What should we do today for the sake of historic peace with our neighbors?"
So, really, why is there no peace? The answer depends on whom you ask. According to Obama, both sides, the Israelis and the Palestinians, are finding it difficult to resume substantive negotiations. In the Time interview, the American president spoke of Hamas breathing down the neck of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and of Netanyahu's problematic coalition. Abbas, as is well known, refuses to include Hamas in his government because of the group's refusal to adopt the two-state solution on the basis of the 1967 borders. On the other hand, the prime minister's government and even his own party include many supporters of the position that the country must not be divided. Moreover, Netanyahu (and Defense Minister Ehud Barak) prefer a coalition with the extreme right wing to a government of national unity that would include a centrist party like Kadima.
According to Peres, only Abbas is to blame. Not Netanyahu in any way. The Palestinians are the ones who "climbed a high horse" on the issue of freezing construction in East Jerusalem. During his visit to Cairo two months ago Peres promised that, immediately after negotiations begin, Netanyahu will not only make do with an absolute freeze on "legal" construction in settlements, but will also evacuate the illegal outposts. This is simply unbelievable! The prime minister is genuinely willing to fulfill Israel's international obligations (the road map), which Israel signed seven years ago? He really deserves a medal from the Peres Center for Peace.
And what will happen in East Jerusalem after negotiations begin (according to Peres' plan, during the first stage there will be no discussion of Jerusalem or the refugees)? Nothing. Is the president willing to promise that when Abbas leaves a meeting with Netanyahu, he will not hear on the radio that a new Jewish neighborhood was just built on the Mount of Olives? If the president can handle controversial political issues, why is he careful to maintain "official silence" on moral issues like tossing out the 1948 refugees from East Jerusalem from their homes in West Jerusalem? Has anyone heard Peres say anything on the arrest of a handful of leftist activists protesting the ridiculing of justice in the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah? And has he nothing to say on his new friend Barak's decision to upgrade Ariel College?
Perhaps the president is busy making another attack against Judge Richard Goldstone, ahead of the deliberations scheduled for next week at the United Nations on his report on Operation Cast Lead. What would Netanyahu do without Peres? Why send to the General Assembly the problematic foreign minister he selected, when a Nobel Peace Prize laureate is always willing to put out the flames? Peres moved from Mapai to Rafi, went back to Ma'arach, tried to run for prime minister on behalf of Meretz, was in the Sharon government and moved to Kadima with him. It's totally natural that he'd be willing to serve a Likud government. But last week Peres managed to surprise.
According to a Haaretz report, the president warned Abbas not to "play with fire," as continuing the political stalemate could result in a third intifada. Instead of riding the wave of support from the "people" - on which he prides himself to this day - and courageously facing the Israeli public and warning them against continuing the occupation and the dangers facing Israel's future as a Jewish and democratic state, the president is passing the responsibility for the failure in the peace process on to the Palestinians and preparing the "public relations" campaign for the next round of violence. Indeed, Peres is one of a kind.