Only an outsider would be surprised that the man who is now the right-hand man of the undertaker of Oslo and beating the drums in favor of a war on Iraq ("sending inspectors won't do the job"), is the same man who once opposed the bombing of the Iraqi nuclear reactor, stood beside Yitzhak Rabin to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, and made a bid for prime minister on the Meretz ticket.
To understand the craziness and herd mentality that permeates the way Israel is run today, imagine what would happen if, following a major terrorist attack, the government (which is another way of saying "Sharon et al, reacting from the gut") decided to send a special IDF task force into Arafat's office to get hold of his glasses and confiscate the lenses. Pressured by America, Israel would announce that it would return the lenses only after the Palestinian Legislative Council changed Arafat's name to "Menachem Ussishkin." But then, in the wake of bad press all over the world, the Foreign Ministry would back down and say Arafat was free to choose any name he wanted, including Arafat. After all (as the Foreign Ministry explained, following Israel's attacks on the Muqata), "Arafat is not the issue. The issue is fighting terror."
Sound ridiculous? Idiotic? Maybe, but not much more so than idea of bulldozing the air-conditioner of the man who seems to have done a good job of driving his old nemesis, Ariel Sharon, and the whole lot of us, out of our cotton-pickin' minds. So why not rename Arafat "Ussishkin" or commandeer his eyeglasses? In what way does that make any less sense than digging a Maginot Line of ditches and barbed wire around him in order to isolate him from the world, while leaving him a telephone line to call its leaders? Or keeping him in solitary confinement and demanding that he fight terror from there? Or declaring him irrelevant but also responsible for every stabbing, bombing or shooting in the region, yet promising not to harm a hair on his head?
It's not hard to imagine our TV commentators explaining it all: how the IDF says that the Ussishkinization of the PLO is inevitable, and that glasses which have perused dozens of documents linked to terror must be smashed. The media will jump on the bandwagon in no time ("The officer who smashed the 'eyes of terror': All I wanted was to get home safely").
How easy it is to imagine the parade of generals and politicians in favor of the move ("There's no choice. Too bad we didn't smash his glasses two years ago") and the cheers of gung-ho patriots living in New Jersey and Miami ("Let's smash the glasses of the Oslo criminals, too"). It's even easier to conjure up the bumbling defense of the Labor Party ministers ("You've got to know what to do and what not to do if you want to keep the Americans happy," as Matan Vilnai remarked this week, re: the raid on the Muqata).
But when it comes to the response of Shimon Peres, you don't need imagination at all. This fellow has responded to scenarios no less wacky and made it through with flying colors. Like a slick lawyer, who proceeds from client to client, putting on the same sanctimonious act, there is no confused idea that our foreign minister will not stand up for and defend with all the pathos he can muster. There's not a reptile he won't declare kosher, using philosophical arguments to boot, just so long as he hangs on to the job.
Especially over the last few days - when the political sterility of his current client, Sharon, is becoming increasingly clear, and we have seen the Oslo Accords summarily dumped in a pauper's grave - Peres has even outdone himself in a trance of statements, denials, clarifications and cartoonish contortions. Hardly a day goes by that he does not angrily deny that he is against something but also for it, shrouding his views in a pensive verbal mist.
"With the security situation as it is, we cannot implement the UN Security Council decision," in tones the man who shouted only yesterday: "What are you trying to do? Spill blood? Sound the bugle? Make us look like crazies? War now? Are you out of your minds?" Just two weeks ago, he quietly swallowed Sharon's official announcement that "Oslo is dead" - a year and a half after "convincing" the Labor Party to accept the platform of the Sharon-Lieberman-Uzi Landau government with his screaming protestations: "This is not Oslo?! Of course it's Oslo!"
This is the same Shimon Peres who scornfully rejected the hudna proposal on the grounds that "we want a cease-fire for years, not one year," allowing hundreds of people to die and thousands to be wounded in the interim. This is the man who turned down the Egyptian-Jordanian proposal with the words: "What do we need it for? Just because some Arab writes something we have to say yes?"
The moral and ideological damage this man has done to the Labor Party and democracy in general during his enthusiastic term as Sharon's fig leaf is hard to assess. But oh! What a shriveled leaf it is. Only an outsider would be surprised that the man who is now the right-hand man of the undertaker of Oslo and beating the drums in favor of a war on Iraq ("sending inspectors won't do the job"), is the same man who once opposed the bombing of the Iraqi nuclear reactor, stood beside Yitzhak Rabin to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, and made a bid for prime minister on the Meretz ticket.
Like Zelig, Woody Allen's human chameleon, who transforms himself according to whatever is going on at the time, Peres has been at the center of activity for 50 years. What sort of activity doesn't matter: provocation, retaliation, settlement-building, making peace. The main thing is that he's in the middle. In this respect, the door is wide open. Who knows? Maybe he'll transfer Ussishkin yet.