Middle Israel: Open letter to President-elect Shimon Peres

Yes, your half-century in the Knesset is one of the longest legislative careers ever, anywhere.

amotz asa el 88 (photo credit: )
amotz asa el 88
(photo credit: )
Dear Mr. President-elect. One wonders what makes you happier these days: having finally won an election, or the hope that Middle Israelis will no longer have your unique crossbreed of Machiavelli, Sisyphus and Don Quixote to kick around. True, it may not have been for the premiership, which you lost five times, nor for Labor's leadership, which you lost four times, just an election for the seemingly powerless presidency, which you had lost merely one time, yet the fact is you won. And since your defiance of biology is second only to Rip Van-Winkle's, just like the intrigues that have checkered your career were second only to Rasputin's, you must now be hoping for one last act of defiance, this time of diplomatic gravity, a defiance that will put to shame Churchill, Metternich and Kissinger put together. Well, hold your horses. Yes, you're a biological wonder. Where are Guy Mollet, with whom you gave Israel its first foreign ally; Mikhail Gorbachev, with whom you released Soviet Jewry; or John Paul II, with whom you mended Catholic-Jewish walls? Heck, even Fidel Castro - who is three years your junior and was still in exile when you cooked a war that involved two superpowers and enraged two others - is already half dead. Yes, your half-century in the Knesset is one of the longest legislative careers ever, anywhere, and your four great-grandchildren will be a rarity among heads of state, not to mention your marriage to the same woman for the past 64 years. And yes, unlike others who have collected titles over the decades - scholars are at a loss to recall anyone who has been president, prime minister and opposition leader, as well as defense, foreign, finance, transportation and posts minister - you actually did things. You won a place in history already in the 50s, when you built our military and aerospace industries and conceived our nuclear program. In the 70s you rehabilitated the beleaguered IDF, in the 80s you led us out of the worst economic crisis in our history and in the 90s you inspired the New Middle East vision. Yet you also earned enemies. GOLDA MEIR, the foreign minister you ignored while waltzing with France, was the first. Eshkol, on whom you imposed Moshe Dayan on the eve of the Six Day War, was the second. Rabin was the third. We haven't forgotten - as you have in your autobiography - the role you played in settling Samaria as a way to spite Yitzhak Rabin. We also didn't forget how your plausible idea of ceding the West Bank to Jordan ended up in history's dustbin because you promoted it in disregard of your own prime minister at the time, Yitzhak Shamir, whom you wanted unseated no less, maybe more, than you wanted peace. It would be nice to let bygones be bygones now, but Middle Israelis can't help fearing that your past as an insubordinate visionary may soon bring with it, yet again, more curse than blessing. Forgive us for suspecting you already are planning a d j vu all over again, maybe a conference with Bashar - "It had to be president-to-president," your aides will explain - or a visit to the Arab League's Cairo headquarters alongside Amr Moussa, or a royal tour of Saudi Arabia, or an initiative for a pan-Mideastern stock exchange in Beirut. Who knows? We therefore beg you to consider the following as you twiddle your thumbs next month staring for the first time at the neatly piled letterheads on your new desk, bearing the Jewish state's insignia. JUST LIKE some things you did nurtured our survival here, others threatened it. The Jordanian vision you preached in the 80s was sound, and it's a great shame Shamir and the people around him, including Ehud Olmert, stabbed it in its infancy. Yet that did not justify your subsequent compromising of your own original insistence that land be ceded only to an existing and reliable government. Middle Israelis, who originally backed your Oslo initiative, have since learned that peace can only be made with the truly repented. Striking fake deals with assorted impersonators, opportunists and double-talkers not only does not bring peace - it can destroy us. You, however, still refuse to declare Oslo a failure, one that killed thousands, disillusioned millions, cost billions and gave peace the bad name it now has here. In this, Mr. President-elect, there is a yawning gap between you and us, even though we are all happy to finally see you bask in victory while your biggest humiliators, Moshe Katsav and Amir Peretz, shrink back to their natural sizes. THE BEAUTY of your situation is that you no longer owe anyone anything, and you have seven years in which to do things that, if only properly chosen, will make your presidency worth everyone's while. Should you promote peace? Of course, provided it generates peace and not what our enemies will misinterpret as weakness and design as traps. Should you do this behind the elected prime minister's back, as you have in the past, and as this particular government's limited gravitas so temptingly begs? Don't be tempted, Mr. Peres. Great calamities might arise from this, as they already have, and there are better things you can do from the place where you have arrived. You can, for instance, lead the war on the new anti-Semitism. You can demand to address those British academics who are trying to do to us what the medieval Church did to our ancestors. Go there and give them a piece of your mind; they will be shamed and Jewish history will be grateful. You can also pick up from where Ben-Gurion left off, and inspire a political reform of the sort he championed, one that will supply us with more leaders like you, and fewer like your predecessor. You can also help de-radicalize Arab-Jewish relations within Israel. You can help the Left and the settlers treat each other with a little more respect, and you can encourage a better dialogue between ultra-Orthodoxy and Zionism. You cannot, however, change the Middle East; no non-Muslim can, not at this stage of its development, whether by deploying soldiers, diplomats or entrepreneurs. Yes, change will arrive here, it has to, just like it did in Eastern Europe, but it will only come when the Arabs crave it themselves - genuinely, organically and enthusiastically. Until then, Mr. President-elect, we must remain on the defensive and humbly concede that there are some very big forces at play here, forces that must be allowed to run their course, forces arguably as big as superpowers - forces even bigger than Shimon Peres's career. www.MiddleIsrael.com