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.
Photo Credit: Flickr
the Arabs were defeated in 1973 mtirlaiily. Since I am a right-winger and my statement both offended Arab pride and seemed to make Israel look good somehow, it must be denounced, whether there is a factual basis or not for the denunciation. One could possibly say, yes, the Arabs were defeated mtirlaiily, but this has no bearing on whether or not the Palestinians have an independent state or not . Since Arab-Palestinian pride is more important, than no wonder the Left-Progressives and the Arab street seem to be pretty strongly opposed to a compromise peace with Israel. That would offend Arab and Progressive sensitivies and their sense of justice. Israel simply has to accept the shopping list of grievances that is presented to them or no deal. There is no room for negotiation because negotiations mean giving up cherished myths and dreams. You see here how Mubarak is denounced for being a traitor to the Palestinian cause (this is what really upsets non-Egyptians, not his being a dictator or undemocratic ) because he gave his people 30 years of peace after his 3 predecessors gave them 4 failed wars with Israel plus another failed war in Yemen (Nasser). What is important is to feel good, not to really improve the situation and feeling good involves one’s fantasies and dreams more than reality.
Arnold: Iran has a few years in which I expect the US to be deeetrrd, and it does not need its nuclear program to play any important role in that deterrence. Over those few years Iran can both make its nuclear program more difficult to bomb and develop new means of deterrence, and possibly its program will reach the point where it is a deterrence in its own right. Who can dispute possibly? Worth the risk? Bear in mind that, assuming perfect knowledge, just before the moment when Iran’s nuclear program becomes a deterrent (i.e. when Iran has a deliverable bomb, to sidestep nuclear option definitional issues here) is when the risk of US attack will be greatest, since the US will recognize that it’s now or never. In the real world, where the US’ knowledge about Iran’s nuclear program is far from perfect, that now or never moment may occur much sooner, depending on how far Iran has progressed, how much the US knows, and how much ambiguity the US is willing to accept.Is it possible that, if the US were presently not bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan and its economy were stronger, US leaders might even today be concluding that the now-or-never moment is already here? Might their present calculus change if, some day, the US is not bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan and its economy is stronger? Might there not be many in the US government today who fret that we’re waiting too long but who are mollified by others who assure them that we’ll make up later for our laxity by increasing the harshness of our post-attack measures to ensure that Iran either doesn’t develop a deliverable bomb or is persuaded that it would be very unwise to use it? If the US bombs Iran today, the US does not expect that it can prevent a full-on push for a bomb that Iran would be able to make after the attack. How do you know that? You don’t, obviously. This statement strikes me as a classic example of starting with a conclusion and working backwards to fill in the arguments necessary to support that conclusion. There is more than one way to prevent Iran from building a deliverable bomb (or at least delivering it). The obvious way is to ferret out the bomb-makers and their activities, which may not be effective if Iran is clever enough. A less-obvious way is to threaten, and even carry out, severe punishment, including collective punishment, at even the slightest hint of bomb-making activity. (As in: Whoops, really sorry about Tabriz – it was a nice city, we’ve heard; great bazaar and all that. One of our guys overheard two Iranians talking about bombs in a cafe9. Turns out they were actors rehearsing their lines in a play, but it was too late to call back our planes. We’re kind of touchy these days – bear that in mind. ) But either way, I’ve never thought Iran’s nuclear program either is today, or will be in any near foreseeable future the only or the primary deterrent to a US attack on Iran. Probably correct at the moment, but you draw an unwarranted conclusion from that. Since other deterrents are sufficient to keep the US from attacking, you conclude that Iran is safe in working on weapons development. That seems sound to me, for the time being, but does it mean that the US would overlook weapons development if those other deterrents should cease to be present? Are you confident the US will continue to be bogged down in other wars, or have a weak economy, or both, for quite some time? I wouldn’t be; the US might actually get out of Iran and Afghanistan some day, and its economy actually might improve, and its people actually might be spoiling for a new war. Iran won’t have much control over any of that. If all that happens and no new deterrents have arisen in the meantime, and Iran is still developing a nuclear weapon (or being secretive, so that the US suspects that it is), are you confident the US will continue to sit back and do nothing about it – just keep passing sanctions and funding opposition groups? I also think eventually Iran’s nuclear capability will reach the point that it could by itself prevent a US attack on Iran, but that is generations from now. Your faith is considerably greater than mine that the US will exhibit the long-term patience required for Iran to get that far. If you’re suggesting Iran should deliberately design its nuclear program around the constraint that the US must feel confident that it could stop it by bombing it if it wants, no state would do that. No state has ever done that. It is an unreasonable suggestion. I feel that Iran should develop every aspect of its peaceful nuclear program on the assumption that it will need to run it entirely without outside help. That includes enrichment, among other activities that the US insists need not be done in order for a country to produce peaceful nuclear energy. To that extent, I agree with you that Iran should not place constraints on its program to appease the US. But I see no need and considerable risk in going beyond that. I don’t know on which side of the line every nuclear activity falls on, and there undoubtedly is ambiguity on that question even for nuclear scientists best trained to draw such lines. I’d give Iran the benefit of the doubt for that reason. But if Iran is engaging in some activity that can only be related to bomb development, I would cut it no slack.You ignore an overarching concern here. Many countries, at any given point in history and especially if one looks back a long way, can complain about being kicked around and abused by a world power or two. For each of those countries, a game-changer powerful weapon would almost certainly be useful. But then the world would end up with yet another country that has that powerful weapon. Countries that acquire powerful weapons aren’t known for giving them up when the pressing need for the weapon no longer exists, and so the list of countries only grows longer, never shorter. After some time passes, the kicked-around-and-abused country might find some smaller country to kick around and abuse. If and when that happens, what had been merely a useful defensive tool may be used for a less noble purpose. (Isn’t that precisely what many now argue is the case for Israel?) Until, of course, the target of this new abuse runs out and gets its own powerful weapon. (For example, Iran runs out and gets itself a nuclear bomb because Israel has one.) And so on and so on. We’ve got enough nuclear-armed states as it is. Iran deserves to not be kicked around and abused, but it doesn’t need or deserve a nuclear bomb to put an end to that, nor does it deserve even the opacity necessary to keep the world guessing about whether it’s building one. Iran should find some other way to stop being kicked around and abused, and I think there are other perfectly good ways out there, as I’ve explained elsewhere. They require more thought and more patience, but they’re out there. Oh, the question of can the IAEA keep its findings confidential. The short answer is no. The IAEA is essentially an intelligence service. The US contributions to the IAEA’s personnel are supplied by the US’ intelligence services. I’m not naefve about this, and certainly understand the risk that the IAEA has tipped its hand to the US, or will in the future. Nonetheless, your third sentence misses the point. The issue is not what the US tells the IAEA, but what the IAEA tells the US. My recollection is that the US grumbled about the IAEA’s stone-walling in response to US requests for more information about the laptop of death, requests ostensibly made so that the US could help the IAEA further by seeing how the IAEA’s information jibed with the US’ own information. The IAEA’s entirely reasonable response, if I recall correctly, was: If you want so much to help, please tell us what you know that you haven’t already told us, and WE will figure out how it all fits together.