Another Chance for Peres

Katsav, who became president in 2000, never overcame his feelings of persecution. Perennial loser Peres, who lost then, believes that those who betrayed him were the real losers.

Moshe Katsav has been in the presidential residence for six years, up to his neck in feelings of persecution. Even before he became mired in allegations of sexual harassment, and worse, when the present was relaxed and the future seemed promising, he was wont to recount his sorrows to visitors who happened into his bureau. He would complain that he was not being treated seriously, that his work was not receiving the kind of media attention that a president deserves. At least one can say that in the last half year he didn't suffer from a lack of coverage.

During those conversations, he would return to his memories of the summer of 2000 when he was elected to the presidency, and would speak of how he had given Shimon Peres a resounding beating. He would recall the deals he had worked out with MKs from the Labor Party, which was still Peres' domain at the time. Four or five of them voted for Katsav. Later there would be those who claimed that the police, who eavesdropped on a well-known businessman over a well-known affair, had heard the names of these five mentioned in connection with receiving benefits from one of Katsav's wealthy associates. Nothing was ever proven.

During the presidential contest, when his party chairman, Ariel Sharon, asked him for a list of potential defectors, Katsav gave him a fabricated list of MKs whom he knew for certain would not vote for him. Katsav didn't trust Sharon and thought he might leak the list. Years later he would recount this with glee.

His enraged performance in the presidential residence on Wednesday, which was also his final performance in that residence, showed him as the eternal victim. The outsider from the transit camp. All the feelings of deprivation burst out of him in the least deprived place in the country. In his deep distress, he regressed to the level of the Likud Party Central Committee he had created, and to the rusty old weapon of attacking the elitist establishment: the media, the police, the state prosecution.

The truth is more complex: The police do indeed leak information, as does the prosecution, and both cooperate with the media; and the attorney general made a mistake when he rushed to announce in September that he did not believe Katsav. That is all true, but these things seem minor compared with the crimes that are attributed to Katsav.

All this humiliation could have been avoided if one woman, who would come to be known as A. III, had opened her mouth in 2000, when Katsav and Peres were competing for the presidency. One day, Peres, who was then minister for regional cooperation, and the leading candidate for the presidency, spoke during a literary-prize awards ceremony. A well-known writer, who asked that her name not be mentioned, went up to Peres' adviser Yoram Dori. "You must stop this," she said. "You have to save the country from this sex offender!" Dori says he did not know what she was talking about. Katsav cannot be president, she told him. The writer explained that she had a friend who had worked with Katsav at the Transportation Ministry. He used to harass her daily, she said, describing in detail to Dori what the minister had done.

Go and ask her whether she is prepared to speak out, Dori said. I can get journalists interested in her story, but she has to cooperate. What are you talking about, the writer asked mockingly. All the journalists already know.

That makes no difference, Dori continued, she has to talk. The writer came back to him two days later. She doesn't want to talk, for family reasons, she said; she is afraid she'll lose her job.

Dori says he did not use the story. He did not even tell Peres, who in any case was convinced that he had the presidency in his pocket. Six years went by and the woman, A. III, accepted the offer of one of the newspapers to tell her story. As far as is known, she does not appear in the indictment because of the statute of limitations.

Peres is mum

Meanwhile, Peres is keeping mum. He walks around the Knesset with his eyes on the floor. His gait is somewhat labored, his back is a little bent, but his body shouts out: They are getting their just desserts! He looks at those who cheated him six years ago and voted for Katsav, and detects the look of shame in their eyes. They come up to him, Likudniks, Shasniks, and say to him: Oy, oy, oy, what a mistake we made. If we could only do it all over again.

If Peres were able to speak, he would say: People say I'm a loser, but you are the real losers. You, who chose him six and a half years ago. Soon you will have another chance. I will be standing for election once again, and this time I'll take the effort to drop in on you. If you cheat me once again, I'm not the one who will feel humiliated. You are the ones who will be ashamed. This time they won't say that Peres lost again, they'll say that you're the loser.

But one should not be taken in by Peres' seeming passivity. He is planning for a fight, and doesn't intend to give up a trick. Especially not the one that shows him as a victim walking toward the abyss with his eyes closed. Peres wants the entire country to shout out: Save him, don't let him fall!

To what extent can Peres rely on the pangs of conscience in the Knesset? He can't. Despite the feeling this week that he should be a winner this time, the balance of power in the Knesset is still not in his favor. His main competitor is Reuven Rivlin, who still has more pledges from more MKs. And so long as there is no majority in favor of changing the law so that the president can be elected in an open vote - a transparent and crass move designed to make life easy for Peres - it can be assumed that there is no majority for electing him.

Prime Minister Olmert would like to see Peres elected. He would be able to claim success for a political achievement, and would have another portfolio to give away - the ministry for development of the Negev and Galilee. But Olmert is not going out of his way to get this majority. This week he told a senior Knesset personality who asked about an open vote: Get the majority by yourselves.