Leave Shimon Peres Alone

The president should not be treated like a trustee who can be called in to manage a failing company.

President Shimon Peres is winding up an important official visit to Russia. A few weeks ago, he started a ruckus by making his views on a military strike against Iran known. Peres also makes an effort to resuscitate the clinically dead peace process. He certainly is no figurehead president, the kind who settles for cutting ribbons and giving the occasional holiday interview. Many much younger people would find it difficult to keep up with his work pace. Peres is not only Israel's president. In the eyes of leaders around the world, he represents the sane, wise, peace-loving Israel, an image that fell apart under successive arrogant and power-loving prime ministers. To many Israelis, he symbolizes what Israel should be.

It is easy to see why, in an election season with such a disappointing field of candidates for prime minister, Peres' name is once again being raised as someone who can and should guide Israel to calmer shores. Politicians from the center and the left are already beating a path to his door to propose that he offer his services. Candidates who would willingly grab their rivals by the throat say, with the appropriate submissive tone, they would consent to taking second place on his ticket. Peres himself has protested, saying he has no interest in running and intends to see out his presidential term. But the very force of his denials actually makes one suspect that Peres is listening carefully to the offers.

It is not hard to understand why a leader, especially a "loser emeritus" like Peres, might consider his options when he is suddenly viewed as the last life raft of the nation. Those who have his best interests in mind, and their own, should chill. Peres is an excellent president. He not only restored its lost honor to the office, but also injected it with a force that gave it influence over the life of the country.

But he cannot, and should not, be treated like a trustee who can be called in to manage a failing company. It is the party leadership who are responsible for cultivating new leaders, creating a new type of politics and proposing policy that will rescue Israel from its troubles. Policy that rests on a sober understanding of Israeli interests, not a "winning card." It is doubtful that Peres' return to party politics could guarantee a victory for him and his ideological followers. It certainly would deprive Israel of a vital guide in a storm.