Who Needs a President?

What is the point of this symbolic position which in 2010 cost the State of Israel almost NIS 40 million?

A portrait and bust of Moshe Katsav continue to greet visitors at the President's Residence. Even if his likeness is taken down, Israel's eighth president left a black hole in the history of the State of Israel. Even in another 100 years, a male or female pupil who has an interest in the history of Israel's presidents will learn that the seventh president, Ezer Weizman, was suspected of receiving gifts from a businessman and evacuated his post to a serial sex offender. They will find on Google that this symbolic position, which decades before vanished from the state's landscape, cost the State of Israel in 2010 almost NIS 40 million.

The school students will learn that fortunately, Israel's ninth president was an outstanding personality. He was an influential person whose impact crossed political camps. He became president after twice serving as prime minister, establishing the nuclear reactor and winning a Nobel Peace Prize for his part in the Oslo process. At the age of 87, Shimon Peres traveled throughout Israel and even sailed to distant lands, in an incessant effort to salvage Israel's reputation and dignity. Journalists wrote that despite his advanced age, Peres continued to pull the thin threads of peace, so that they would not snap.

These industrious students will discover in the archive of President Peres' speeches that in May 2009 he made the following important statement to an AIPAC convention: "Benjamin Netanyahu knows history, and he wants to make history. In our tradition, making history means making peace, and I am convinced that peace is his highest ambition." The president promised this audience that "the government of Israel will honor the commitments of its predecessor." Israel's president cited favorably the Arab peace initiative of 2002, and turned to the audience: "Why wait? Israel is ready today to bring about peace."

The ninth president's next important speech was delivered on the grave of David Ben-Gurion. This was November 2010, a time when the product of Peres' hero was drowning in a sea of hatred. Peres stated that Ben-Gurion never conceded our right to the land of Israel, but believed that our immediate obligation is to save the Jewish people, and that cannot be done without giving up some parts of the country. When Peres made this reference, settlements were flourishing, peace talks stalled, and the briefing forecasts that he received from intelligence community chiefs became ever gloomier.

The briefings reinforced what Peres had stated in November 2006, as deputy prime minister under Ehud Olmert, to the Winograd Commission that investigated blunders during the Second Lebanon War: "We cannot prevent the penetration of nuclear weapons. We need to end the reasons used to attack us; in other words, we need to obtain full peace in the coming period." Peres added: "We should be cruel to ourselves ... we should do everything to reach peace. We are playing with the future of the Jewish people."

At the end of 2010, when his state inundated itself with fear, racism and righteousness, the ninth president remained very careful about criticizing the state's leaders. He believed that Netanyahu "really wants to make history," and that if he would only rid himself of his right-wing coalition partners, he would bring peace and security. Peres focused on opposition leaders from the political center, hoping they would join the government; but he was unable to persuade them to join a "unity government." Tzipi Livni preferred to wait for the public (about half of whom support the racist doctrines of the extremist rabbis ) to bring her to power.

If a president of Shimon Peres' caliber was unable to put his finger in the dike, these pupils will wonder, what was the point - who needs a president?