"I did not dream of being president," Shimon Peres said in his inauguration speech yesterday in the Knesset. "I dreamed of being a shepherd and a poet of stars." Only Peres could have written such a line.
The most veteran and still active politician never asked for a job, but he knew how to fight like a lion over every post and every position of power. Yesterday he reminisced of his life, 60 years ago, as a shepherd in the hills of the Galilee, as if between those days and now, when he was being sworn in as president, Peres had not received every possible recognition, all the honors, and the most the power ever awarded to anyone in Israel, alive or dead.
Even yesterday, during the restrained party, sans glitz, that marked the beginning of the end of his public life, Peres appeared somewhat detached, preoccupied. Did the weight of "destiny" burden him? Unlikely, since there's no need to overstate the degree of responsibility he now has. Perhaps he was thinking that by withdrawing from routine politics, he was also giving up once and for all on his desire to become prime minister, which may actually, in some bizarre way, have stood a chance of being realized in the coming months. Perhaps he was feeling that old age had crept up on him. Maybe he told himself: 'That's it, there is nothing left to strive for. There is nowhere to go."
Perhaps he was thinking of sheep in the Galilee, or possibly he was really thinking about peace in the Middle East, about the Peace Valley project, about a Palestinian state. With Peres, one never really knows.
"You will be a non-stop president," Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik pronounced to Peres yesterday. She has always stood by him at the lowest points - his painful defeats to Shamir, Netanyahu, Katsav and Peretz - and yesterday, she apologized to him, on behalf of the plenum. It is unclear why and what for. The man was prime minister twice, foreign minister three times, and defense minister twice; he held countless other cabinet positions and earned with hard work all that he received: the respect, and the scorn, the congratulations and the rotten tomatoes, the hatred and the adoration.
When Peres walks into the President's Residence tomorrow, the act will wipe the slate clean from the disgrace of Moshe Katsav, and a new, intriguing era will begin. If to judge from the interview he granted the Associated Press yesterday morning, in which he spoke of parting with the territories and of a Palestinian state, and knowing the man, it will be a very interesting tenure.
If during the seven years of Katsav, the residence enjoyed less than average attention from the press - until the final year, in which it was under the magnifying glass of reporters on the police and the legal beats - there is a good chance that, under Peres, the office will require the expertise of diplomatic correspondents, reporters on strategic issues, and political reporters.
During his Knesset address, Peres laid out his areas of intended activity: They include the entire world and then some, more or less. He knows that he does not have unlimited time. His hearing is not what it used to be, nor his memory. But he still has a good and steady supply of adrenaline, which should fuel his insatiable stamina for work.
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