Run, Peres, run!

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.

President Shimon Peres 370 (photo credit: Mark Neiman/GPO)
President Shimon Peres 370
(photo credit: Mark Neiman/GPO)
The Israeli political scene is undergoing a earthquake. Recently, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu merged his Likud party with the ultra-nationalist party leader Avidgor Liberman to form 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 – Shimon Peres.
More liberal Israeli constituents are desperately looking for a promising leader to fight Netanyahu and the emerging hawkish coalition.
Some prominent candidates exist, but each has flaws that would prevent them from becoming prime minister.
Labor chairwoman Shelly Yacimovich is a rising star. Current polls predict a significant increase in her party’s seats in the next coalition, to over 20 seats. Her positions on socio-economic issues and her populist bent, including criticizing the current tax code for favoring the wealthy, have propelled her popularity.
Nevertheless, her credentials on foreign policy matters and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are hardly as substantial. Her first trip abroad as a Knesset Member, mainly to attend an international socialist conference, was in August of this year.
Furthermore, when Republican President nominee Mitt Romney visited Israel during the summer, he met with many Israeli leaders but cancelled his appointment with Yacimovich 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 politics are dominated by security threats, the prime minister needs stronger security and foreign policy credentials.
Ehud Olmert is also a name that has appeared more frequently among political pundits for the position. Unlike Yacimovich, Olmert brings a thorough background in security matters and international affairs. He speaks fluent English, as former prime minister met regularly with American presidents, and conducted intensive negotiations with Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas.
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 in a Jerusalem court of breach of trust regarding a bribery scandal.
Furthermore, by the end of his term, Olmert was deeply unpopular, and it appears unlikely that he would be able to regain public support in such a short amount of time.
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 as President of Israel, and he receives remarkable support from a wide spectrum of the Israeli public.
Peres has extensive security and foreign policy experience, having served three times as Israel’s foreign minister and twice as defense minister. He played a major role in building Israel’s secret nuclear program with help from France and was given the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994 for his work in the Oslo Agreements with the Palestinians. He is deeply admired overseas.
President Barack Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honor, in June 2012, saying, “In him [Peres] we see the essence of Israel itself – an indomitable that will not be denied.”
However, Peres is more than just a foreign policy expert. Peres 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 strong backer of the Israeli technology world. He championed the electric car built in Israel along with stem cell research.
Yes, Shimon Peres is currently 89 years old. Yet Peres’ age did not stop him from ascending to the presidency in his mid 80s. Peres is in excellent health and regularly meets with international leaders.
He continues to play a pivotal role on the Israeli political scene.
Shimon Peres has the unique combination of a strong background in security and diplomatic affairs and 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 studies political science at the University of Michigan. He previously lived in Israel, and has written articles on Israeli politics for The Jerusalem Post. He also studied Arabic in Fes, Morocco, and in the Palestinian Territories.