The one man in Israel most qualified to respond to the security dilemma and unify the fragmented Israeli public? Shimon Peres.
By Aaron Magid
The Israeli political scene is undergoing a earthquake. Recently, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu merged his Likud party with the ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beytenu party led by Avidgor Lieberman, forming a united right wing bloc. Rumors are spreading that former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is considering entering the race along with former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. However, these reports neglect a key player in the next election, a man who could possibly shift the entire electoral outcome — President Shimon Peres, Israel’s most respected elder statesman.
Liberal Israeli constituents are desperately looking for a promising leader to fight Netanyahu and the emerging hawkish coalition. Some prominent candidates exist, but all of them have flaws that would prevent them from becoming Prime Minister. Labor Chairwoman Shelly Yachimovich, a rising star in Israeli politics, is among them. Current polls predict that under her leadership, the party will win over 20 Knesset seats in the January 2013 elections, up from the current 8 seats — a record low for Israel’s once-dominant Labor Party. Her populist stance on socio-economic issues has propelled her popularity, including criticizing the current tax code for favoring the wealthy.
Nevertheless, her credentials on foreign policy, security, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are hardly as impressive. A former journalist who entered politics six years ago, her first trip abroad as a Knesset member was only in August of this year. Furthermore, when Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney visited Israel during the summer, he met with many Israeli leaders but cancelled his appointment with Yachimovich at the last minute, demonstrating her lack of sway in the foreign policy arena. Although socio-economic issues are important, in a country like Israel where security threats loom large in public discourse, an aspiring prime minister is expected to have security and foreign policy credentials that far exceed Yachimovich’s novice profile.
Ehud Olmert is also a name that has appeared more frequently among political pundits searching for a candidate to displace Netanyahu. Unlike Yachimovich, Olmert comes with a solid background in security matters and international affairs, and even knows English. The former prime minister met regularly with American presidents, and conducted intensive negotiations with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, which both sides claim were close to completion. However, his term as prime minister was plagued by corruption charges and the mismanagement of the Second Lebanon War in 2006. He was recently convicted of breaching public trust in regards to a bribery scandal that brought down his administration. For these reasons, by the end of his time in office Olmert was deeply unpopular, and it appears unlikely that he would be able to regain massive public support in such a short amount of time. Meanwhile, his Kadima Party successors also have had problems at the polls, with Tzipi Livni failing to even with her party’s primary against Shaul Mofaz, who himself lost the faith of voters by briefly joining the Netanyahu government.
With such a glaring hole on the Israeli left, Shimon Peres is the most suitable candidate to challenge Netanyahu. In June 2007, the Knesset selected Peres, the longest serving Knesset member ever, to be president of Israel, and he has received remarkable support from a wide spectrum of the public. A former prime minister who served in the 1980s and 90s, Peres is the most experienced leader in Israeli history, having served three times as Israel’s foreign minister, twice as defense minister, and once as finance minister. He played a major role in building Israel’s secret nuclear program and shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994 for his work on the Oslo Agreements with the Palestinians. He is deeply admired overseas. U.S. President Barack Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honor in June 2012 saying, “In him we see the essence of Israel itself — an indomitable spirit that will not be denied.” However, Peres is more than just a foreign policy expert. He strongly supported the protest movement over rising social inequalities last year, emphasizing that he is “very proud of the justified social protests.” For many years, he has been a vocal proponent of Israeli technology abroad, championing the country’s young electric car industry.
Yes, Shimon Peres is currently 89-years-old. But Peres’ advanced age did not stop him from ascending to the presidency in his mid-80’s. Peres is in excellent health and regularly meets with international leaders. He continues to play a pivotal role in the Israeli political scene.
Shimon Peres has the unique combination of having a strong background in security and diplomatic affairs with a passion for socio-economic issues. While Peres has been defeated many times in previous elections, his renewed popularity among the Israeli public should lead him to reconsider running once again for prime minister. As President Obama recently stated, “Peres is the true comeback kid.”
Shimon, for the sake of Israel and the Middle East, prove President Obama right.
Aaron Magid is a Staff Writer at the Jerusalem Review.
Editor’s note: This article previously ran in the Jerusalem Post, and has been syndicated here with the author’s permission.
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