The Race for President / Shimon Peres - a Loser No More

Next week will be a historic week of rejoicing winners and grieving losers. On Tuesday the Labor Party will elect a new chairman and the very next day a state president will be elected. The tension is reaching its peak.

Seven years ago, when Shimon Peres did the impossible, the incredible, and lost to Moshe Katsav, I felt as though I was struck by thunder. How could this have happened, I asked myself. Immediately after the election I went down from the plenum floor to Peres' office to console him. The room was crowded with people and Peres was like a groom among mourners.

Peres was not a man to let a few little foxes sabotage his vineyard, which would yet produce grapes. If the trees, those logs, had decided to anoint the bramble bush as their king (Jotham's parable, Judges 9:7-20), then he, Peres, would not cease his benign activity.

His seven bad years have passed, and once again he's back in a race and on the starting line. Shimon Peres is the longest distance runner, with more marathons than the Olympics. What a vast distance now separates his Sebastia from his Oslo, his Nobel Oslo from these present days, in which Israel is muttering about war with Syria and canceling meetings with the Palestinians at the last moment.

Nonetheless, unlike all the previous times, Peres can only win. Even if he loses, he would be a loser no more.

There are only two possibilities. One is that the stars have really stopped lying to him, in which case he will be elected, for a change. This is a sensational option, which he will have to get used to, at his age. He might possibly fall into the melancholy of the late-blooming winner who sees no more challenges on his horizon.

The other possibility is that next week evil will once again overcome good. This will not be good, certainly not pleasant, but not disastrous either: Shimon has won already, regardless of the ballot count. As far as he is concerned, this was not a zero-sum game in which one side wins as long as the other loses. If Peres loses, he can say, with defeats like that, who needs victories?

It has certainly been a spectacular victory campaign even before it was finished, a one-man pride parade by one man who has much to be proud of. The polls in his favor were intoxicating. At every reception, inauguration, cocktail party and banquet, his hand was shaken and he was showered with warm wishes. Rabbis repented for what they had done to him; in a television studio, soldiers gave him a standing ovation. And Yair Lapid interviewed him, anointing his head with oil. How good it is to be the beloved candidate at last, the one who deserves victory, the one voted most popular even if he is not voted into office.

At worst, Peres will return to the Galilee and Negev he loves and will be loath to abandon unless he is forced to. Shimon Peres will be a president with all his heart, but against his will.

If not now, then next time he will surely be elected because the election will be taken away from the Knesset and given to the electorate. At the very least, they will enact an open election and thus enable members of Shas and parties like it to vote against their heart's leanings.