Don’t stop, Shimon

The private Peres will probably fight for his views as a leader of the peace camp.

On the Palestinian question, Shimon Peres and Reuven Rivlin (right) are polar opposites (photo credit: GPO/AMOS BEN GERSHOM,FLASH 90)
On the Palestinian question, Shimon Peres and Reuven Rivlin (right) are polar opposites
(photo credit: GPO/AMOS BEN GERSHOM,FLASH 90)
 AFTER A scandalridden political race, in early June the Knesset elected Reuven (Ruvi) Rivlin as Israel’s 10th president.
Rivlin, a man of integrity, a people person and a true democrat is also a super-hawk and one of the most prominent supporters of the one-state vision: that is, a binational Israeli- Palestinian state.
The very fact that an out-and-out supporter of a single state from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea is now Israel’s first citizen shows that the concept is no longer confined to the margins.
This raises a serious question: How will the fact that Israel’s new president is a “onestater,” perhaps the ultimate “one-stater,” influence the complex diplomatic dynamic in which we live? The president is supposed to be the Israeli leader closest to the people. A successful president’s home is like a magnet, and a president who is open and friendly and strikes a chord, the way Rivlin is likely to do, will almost certainly establish close ties with a splintered Israeli public yearning for a unifying symbol.
Rivlin, the consummate politician, is the scion of a political and ideological family, and there is no chance that, at 74, he will change his views. In his own pleasant way, he will continue to push for the solution he believes in. Nevertheless, he will not diverge from the rule that the president does not get involved in party politics and he will not try to foist his position on the government.
His advocacy will not go beyond the bounds his office allows.
With regard to the international arena, Rivlin has never seen himself as a prominent spokesman for Israel. In any event, there is virtually no one in the international community who subscribes to the vision Rivlin is peddling to the Israeli public.
The overall impact of Rivlin’s entry into the president’s residence should be judged against the future moves of its outgoing occupant, Shimon Peres. On the Palestinian question, Peres is Rivlin’s polar opposite.
The ultimate “two-stater,” he won a Nobel Peace Prize for advancing the twostate vision. Although his partner, Yitzhak Rabin, paid for the vision with his life, Peres never stopped advocating the twostate solution, even from the president’s residence.
But as is the presidential custom, he never confronted an Israeli government that, through its actions on the ground, consistently undermined the two-state paradigm. To some extent, the opposite is true: Through his work as Israel’s most prominent and admired spokesman worldwide, Peres took the heat off Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and, in so doing, actually helped him bury the two-state idea.
But while Rivlin is now forced to wear the president’s constrictive mantle, Peres is about to discard it. For the first time in his adult life, Peres will be a private citizen. He leaves the presidency a hugely popular figure and by all accounts does not intend to disappear into the family fold. On the contrary, he will continue his public activities in Israel and abroad. But with a difference – he will not be constrained by a political party, the Knesset or the government. Perhaps, even more importantly, he will not have to think about standing for election again. We will get pristine pure Peres, without constraints.
But how far will he want to go? Will the private Peres agree to buck the consensus and fight courageously for his views as a prominent leader of the peace camp? I think he will. It’s time, Shimon, as the elder statesman, to fulfill your dreams and justify your Nobel Peace Prize. If you do, you could influence our destiny as a civilian more than you ever did as president.  Alon Liel, a former director general of the Foreign Ministry, served as ministry spokesperson under Shimon Peres (1987-9) and was appointed by Peres as ambassador to South Africa (1992-4)