Text size

Too much time passed between the statements made last Friday by associates of Shimon Peres about the excessive activities of the Israel Defense Forces in Rafah that are allegedly sabotaging his understandings with Yasser Arafat and the clarification the foreign minister expressed in his own words: "The statements were not made with his [Arafat's] consent, his knowledge or at his initiative."

Peres did not deny the very existence of the complaint against the security establishment, and wisely so, because, after all, he has already made more than one comment over the past few months against the opinion of Military Intelligence with regard to the intentions of the Palestinian Authority and against the recommendations of the IDF with regard to the way in which to deal with the intifada.

Peres is fulfilling a thankless role. He is the only minister who is trying to push the government into talks with the Palestinians. This is a Sisyphean effort involving conflicts with the prime minister and the majority of the public. Against the prevailing view that Arafat is not a partner for negotiations, but rather a partner in a death pact, the foreign minister is making every effort - stubbornly and sophisticatedly - to build bridgeheads alongside the political front.

He has had some irrefutable success, the last being his meeting with Arafat on the eve of Yom Kippur. Ariel Sharon was forced to waive his declared conditions and agree to negotiations under fire in the most concrete sense of the term: while Peres was meeting with Arafat at Dahaniyeh, the sounds of the IDF and Palestinians clashing over the Termit outpost could be clearly heard all around.

As impressive as Peres' adherence to the path of peace may be, he is in danger of falling prey to getting carried away with the concept and his heartfelt desires. From the outset, the foreign minister has been suspected of being primarily concerned with saving his honor, and the honor of the Nobel Peace Prize he received; and this is the light in which his actions should be understood.

In other words, he is seen by his critics not as a a politician with foresight who understands that Israel faces real existential risks if it does not hurry up and end its conflict with the Palestinians, but rather as a selfish politician who is striving, first and foremost, to rehabilitate his prestige. This suspicion is reinforced when Peres attacks the IDF and accuses it of foreign considerations and conducting an independent policy in opposition to the spirit of government decisions.

The decisive fact is that the IDF, and Military Intelligence in particular, correctly predicted the developments in the Palestinian Authority and its intentions, and then translated its diagnosis into a reasonable operational language. This fact is lost on the initiator of the Oslo idea: he repeatedly argues that process that began in September 1993 is threatening to drown not because of an inherent flaw, but due to the mistakes made in its implementation - particularly during the periods of the Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak governments.

When he gets carried away by the passions of his belief, Peres charges that the efforts over the past six months to achieve a stable cease-fire and go from there back to the political path are not making much progress due, inter alia, to the actions of the IDF.

Peres and his people have, on more than one occasion, accused Military Intelligence of presenting severe and one-sided assessments of the situation, of illegitimately slipping into the area of political forecasts and of fixated thinking. They have complained that the IDF is conducting too harsh a security policy, that its responses to Palestinian provocation are exaggerated and that the supreme command is not always in control of the secondary command posts.

Claims of this kind expose Peres to a predictable beating: in a competition between his credibility and that of Military Intelligence and the General Staff, the foreign minister will emerge with his tail between his legs.

It would be best, therefore, for the foreign minister to play his cards with increased control: in order to continue to fulfill his vital role - of one who has not despaired of reaching an understanding with Arafat - Peres must take care not to get involved in conflicts with the upper military echelon.

The IDF may also be imprisoned by conceptions, and perhaps it too is being exaggeratedly sent into action by the personal desires of its commanders; nevertheless, it is perceived as far more professional and down-to-earth than the politicians, particularly one who has been labeled with the image of an indefatigable subversive.