Veteran Knesset members of the Likud probably remember the meetings that the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee had in 1994. In these sessions, then-Foreign Minister Shimon Peres worked tirelessly to convince the other members of the merits of the agreement according to which the Palestinian Authority would get full control of Gaza and Jericho as the first stage of implementation of the Oslo Accords. Skeptic Likud members asked the foreign minister: "What if the Palestinians fire Katyusha rockets at Ashkelon?" - "We'll crush them like fleas," Peres responded assertively, adding a demonstrative gesture. When the right-wingers' pessimistic forecast materialized, Peres led a group of ministers that tried to restrain the IDF's retaliatory military operations.
This reminder is now provided as a service to Peres, to show him that his current attempts to convince his party to once again join Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's government are pathetic. Regrettably, Peres seems to have been struck by an infliction that is common among octogenarian politicians: they don't know when to quit; they don't realize their actions suddenly seem to have no link to reality; they no longer touch people's hearts and no longer invoke their respect.
Like in his promise to crush Palestinian terror like vermin, Peres now is trying to mobilize support for another move from which Labor can, ostensibly, retract at will: negotiations with Sharon to join the coalition, in which conditions will be stipulated to test his intentions. But Labor leaders, as well as the general public, have already learned the dynamic of such negotiations; even more importantly, they have deciphered the code behind Peres' relentless efforts. They know once he gets his foot in the door that party chairman Amram Mitzna is trying to close shut, he will offer more and more reasons and suggestions, along with the usual promise that backtracking is always an option, and mobilize help inside and outside to create facts that will burst the door open and march Labor back to the government, with Peres in the lead.
All this would have been legitimate had Peres had a valid reason to convince Labor to join Sharon's government, but it seems he is motivated by nothing more than a personal agenda. In the last government, Peres was continually degraded by Sharon (including Sharon's prohibition to meet PA Chairman Yasser Arafat; Sharon's turning down Peres' entreaties to allow the Palestinian leader to participate in the Christmas service at the Church of the Nativity; Sharon's disregard of the agreement between Peres and Abu Ala) but did not draw the natural conclusions and held tight to his portfolio. Sharon answered Palestinian terrorism with force, without any concurrent political incentives. Peres protested but bowed to the prime minister's dictate. At critical moments in the conflict, Sharon circumvented Peres (with raids in Gaza, F-16 strikes, assassination of arch-terrorists in calm periods, capture of the Orient House, devastation of the Muqata, definition of targets in Operations Defensive Shield and Determined Path, and more) - but Peres stayed hopeful, in the government.
The outgoing Labor ministers are unable to boast any substantial achievement in mitigating the prime minister's attitude toward the Palestinians. They flatly disagree with all of the outcomes of his policy, as they explained unequivocally in the election campaign that came to a close only five days ago. Why on earth should they rejoin any government led by Sharon?
Furthermore, Sharon's proclaimed goal is to reach an agreement. If this is indeed the case, he needs no spurring from the left wing. According to this logic, too, there is no reason for Labor to join the government. If small right-wing coalition partners make it difficult for Sharon to implement the necessary painful concessions, Labor can back him up from the opposition benches. Shimon Peres would therefore be well advised to sit back and let Amram Mitzna steer the party as he sees fit.
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