Shimon Peres: Eyes wide closed to realityIsrael's President is supposed to a non-political senior statesman-like figure, who is above the fray. That was the case with all of Israel's Presidents until Ezer Weizmann. Weizmann, a former air force pilot and nephew of the country's first President Chaim Weizmann, was the first President to get involved in politics and although he was never indicted, he was eventually forced to resign due to financial scandal.
His successor, Moshe Katzav, disgraced the Presidency as no one before him. Katzav, whose criminal case is still not entirely resolved, pleaded guilty to an 'indecent act' to avoid a rape charge of which much of the country thinks he is guilty. As Israel's first 'religious' President (Katzav was the first to insist on a synagogue being placed within the President's residence), Katzav's tenure has been particularly difficult for the country. When Shimon Peres was elected, many people hoped that at least he would restore the royal Presidency.
Before he was elected President, Shimon Peres fed those hopes by promising that he would be the 'President of all the people.' But before Peres was even installed in office yesterday, that promise was forgotten in an interview with al-AP:
In a half-hour interview with The Associated Press, Peres — praised by his supporters as a visionary but ridiculed by foes as a hopeless dreamer — pledged to fight poverty and global warming, and even expressed hope of making peace with archenemy Iran.The reactions from the right were not long in coming:
"After such a long career, let me just say something: My appetite to manage is over. My inclination to dream and to envisage is greater," he said, looking vigorous in a dark blue suit, light blue tie and crisp shirt and discounting his age as a factor that could slow him down.
But until last month, Peres had never won an election, an embarrassing blemish on an otherwise illustrious career.
"I don't think there was any person who was so much attacked and criticized in these last 60 years like myself. But the fact that after 60 years of criticism, of terrible remarks, they decided to elect me as the president," Peres said. "I didn't expect it."
Under Israel's parliamentary system, political power is concentrated in the hands of the prime minister. The president plays a largely ceremonial role, representing the government at official functions and serving as a unifying figure in a country riven by deep political divisions, especially over how to pursue peace with the Palestinians.
Peres has long been among the most dovish members of the Israeli leadership. While aware of the constraints of the new job, Peres said he would not halt his crusade for peace with the Palestinians. He said that would require Israel to withdraw from significant pieces of territory captured in the 1967 Mideast War — a position still opposed by large parts of the Israeli public. "We have to get rid of the territories," he said, referring to the West Bank, insisting that this is the majority view in Israel today.
He said he would use the presidency to "encourage" the government to take steps for peace, offer advice to the nation's leaders and "speak to the people."
"In public life, you don't use swords. You use words. You talk to people. You have dialogue. That's what I'm going to do. I don't have any force but the force of my conviction," he said.
MK Aryeh Eldad (National Union) responded with anger at Peres' remarks. "I wanted to accept Peres as the President of the entire country," Eldad said, "but he decided to begin with divisiveness and discord. To say so derisively that Israel must 'get rid' of area and, consequently, a quarter of a million people who live there... This is not the way to start."Closing our eyes - to reality - is the only way there can be a 'peace process' right now. And closing our eyes to reality is too big a risk to take.
Peres is famous for having a way with words and unique comparisons. As Jerusalem Post editor David Horowitz wrote on Friday about a recent Peres speech, "Peres was full of clever aphorisms that sometimes seemed rather less wise when they sunk in."
In May 1997, Peres told the Jerusalem Report, "In Argentina, the home of the tango, you know that in order to dance well, you have to close your eyes and let the romance begin... Peace is a romantic process."