At precisely 8:10 A.M., we would peer through the window out of the legendary house on 110 Hayarkon Street. Shimon was coming to work at the Labor Party headquarters, and we, the employees of his bureau, were anxious to know what his face had to tell us that morning. Was he looking forlorn again, or had he woken up happy? We got to recognize his expressions, which told us a lot more about his feelings than his words did. His face generally conveyed sorrow; those were the days of Yitzhak Rabin's book "The Rabin Memoirs" and Menachem Begin's speeches in the public squares.
Yesterday evening, at precisely 6 P.M., I stood in the Knesset plaza and once again - some 30 years later - tried to look at the face of Shimon Peres. The ninth president looked tense. After innumerable positions in public service, which would comprise a large cabinet if he were capable of filling them all simultaneously, Peres - as Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik said - looked like someone who isn't used to the honor, respect and love that everyone was suddenly bestowing upon him. He stepped out of his car alone, as someone who had already seen it all - everything except for this outpouring of love.
The swearing-in ceremony was an Israeli attempt to create for ourselves a moment of faux royalty. Itzik spoke about the "second Shimon" - the first Shimon being the Hasmonean leader Shimon Maccabeus. Mounted police, motorcycles and trumpets accompanied Peres' vehicle. All the same, the sound system choked momentarily, and the flower arrangements in the plenum collapsed as Peres said that as a child, he wanted to be a shepherd and a "poet of the stars." Peres' baby great-granddaughter burst into tears, and Infrastructures Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer accidentally knocked the velvet skullcap off the head of Communications Minister Ariel Atias at the cabinet table, which was more crowded than usual, despite the spot Peres had vacated after 47 years.
The crowd of hundreds was a typical Peres crowd: World Jewish Congress president and American businessman Ronald Lauder, Israeli author Meir Shalev, Russian-Israeli financier Arcadi Gaydamak. Some old-timers came too, all of whom look like they had aged far more than Peres. Two people were conspicuous in their absence: Peres' wife Sonia, who was unable to attend for reasons of health, and Peres' predecessor, Moshe Katsav.
The flag-waving Scouts were, whether the choice was intentional or not, from the West Bank settlement of Kfar Adumim. "Do you know who this man is?" asked Itzik, and they did. It's doubtful whether they also knew that the man they cheered had played a major role in the settlement enterprise. It's doubtful whether Peres, who said in a newspaper interview yesterday that "we have to get rid of the territories," will know, as president, how to fix the most critical of all his mistakes.
Being Peres, he used his speech to speak of the Peace Valley, a planned project of artificial lakes and factories in the Jordan Valley, where, in the meantime, it's impossible to move a crate of cucumbers from one place to another. When Peres spoke about his visit to the village of his birth, the Knesset was silent; once he got to the Peace Valley, the ministers were telling jokes.
At the end, Peres got a standing ovation, just like he loves, just like he has always loved. The driver who took me back to my car told me: That is a great man. Thirty years ago, I heard cab drivers speaking differently.
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