In a planned move that entailed carefully chosen words, President Shimon Peres used his prestige Sunday to propose a public alternative to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. This was a public alternative, not a political one, because Peres is remaining president and has shelved any passing thoughts about resigning to run against Netanyahu as the leader of a center-left bloc. But he has not shelved his political views, or his obligation - not just his right - to air them.
Labor Party chief Shelly Yacimovich has decided to play down her party's positions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; the polls show that Labor will be the second-largest party in the next Knesset and that the issues of peace and the territories have been marginalized in the pre-election rhetoric. Against this backdrop, Peres highlighted the need to move forward in resolving the conflict. He even praised Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, saying that it takes a great deal of courage "for an Arab leader to stand up and publicly state that he is for peace rather than terror, and for a demilitarized state."
Peres warned against the concept of a binational state, which he called "a danger to Zionism, Judaism and the democracy of the State of Israel." He also clarified his position on Netanyahu's demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state as a precondition for negotiations, saying "I don't have to say what the character of the Palestinian state is and they don't have to recognize our character."
Peres' speech expressed something Netanyahu refuses to recognize: The line the prime minister is taking, his evasion of frank and far-reaching talks with Abbas, might lead to disaster.
Netanyahu and his natural partner, Yisrael Beiteinu's Avigdor Lieberman, have already wasted four precious years. Since Lieberman is not considered a desirable member of the foreign ministers club, Netanyahu has often used Peres - who as a former prime minister and foreign minister is an honorary member of that club - to explain government policy and persuade others to put their faith in him. On the eve of the election, the president couldn't remain untrue to himself; he was obligated to speak the truth before calamity befalls us.
Likud, which has been denouncing Peres' remarks, prefers the arrogance and aggressiveness of the Netanyahu-Lieberman school of foreign policy, which will end up serving a Naftali Bennett-style far-right political doctrine. For Israel's sake, it would be wise to listen to Peres.
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