In Israel it is part of the conventional wisdom that Shimon Peres is unelectable. He was not only defeated repeatedly for Prime Minister when he headed the Labor ticket, but could not even muster the votes for the honorary position of President. The world-famous Nobel Prize winner went down to defeat last year before the relatively unknown Knesset member Moshe Katsav.
But while he was never elected to the post, Peres has nonetheless been Prime Minister twice, first from 1984-1986 when Yitzhak Shamir headed an elected Likud government (but in order to include Labor in the coalition agreed to make Peres Prime Minister for the first two years of his term) and the second time after Rabin's assassination. A good case can be made that functionally Peres has been Prime Minister for the past eight years, as each Prime Minister hopefully (Rabin, Barak) or reluctantly (Netanyahu) implemented his "vision," the Oslo agreeements. Today, clearly, although his title is Foreign Minister, Peres is the real Prime Minister, having consolidated his power over a hapless Ariel Sharon through the political maneuvering for which he is justly famous.
When the public gave Sharon an overwhelming mandate to govern, they had reason to expect that he would reject previous leaders and policies to instill the nation with a new spirit and embark on a new course. Sharon had reiterated for years that Oslo was a hideous farce, that Peres had been a catastrophe for Israel, and that Arafat could be trusted only to continue on his well worn path of deceit and terror. Well before Oslo had been set in motion, Sharon was prescient in anticipating the potential for precisely such a disaster as a result of weakening public morale. When the calamity came to pass, Sharon published a regular column in the Jerusalem Post detailing all the ways in which Oslo undermined Israel's prospects for survival; he lectured and gave interviews in Israel, the United States, and elsewhere, always with the same theme.
Here is Sharon in February 1989, four years before Oslo, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal (February 27): "When we see the world willing to make all those concessions to the PLO terrorist organization, that is very dangerous. But when we look at the spirit, we find that from this aspect also Israel is in a state of mind of defeatism. That is the most dangerous situation. There is an attempt to please the aggressor--thinking that if we will please the aggressor maybe it will look different. There is this will to please, having this illusion that once the aggressor will get what he is demanding he will stop being the aggressor."
Here is Sharon four months after Oslo, when
a total of 21 Israelis had been killed in its
wake: "[G]overnment ministers dealing with Arafat bear direct
(not indirect) responsibility for these Jewish casualties" (JP, Jan. 8, 1994*). Here is Sharon two months later (JP, March 19): "Israel has no clear, defined goal. The renewal of peace talks has become an object in itself....The government is on the verge of a process by which we are liable to lose everything. Israel becomes weaker day by day....It is awful to think that in one generation we could see both the rebirth of the Jewish State, and its possible destruction." And here is Sharon one month afterward (JP, April 11), contemplating the mere possibility that the government might uproot the Jews of Hebron. "Zionism came about first and foremost to bring us back to Jerusalem, Hebron, Shilo and Beit El. It is from these places that we came, it is about these places that we dreamt, it is these places that we yearned and prayed for during the last 2,000 years. Only if we are there can we be a free Jewish people." Oslo, continued Sharon, is an experiment which is about to turn Israel into a combination of Lebanon, Sarajevo and Johannesburg."
Although his title is Foreign Minister, Peres is the real Prime Minister...
Here is Sharon almost two years later (JP, Feb. 9, 1996) describing what the Likud position should be in the upcoming 1996 elections. "[W]e must not accept the iniquitous and dangerous Oslo agreements....If the Likud accepts the Oslo Pact, it no longer has a right to exist." In a May 25, 1996 interview with New York Times reporter Serge Schmemann, Schmemann notes that Sharon "leaves no doubt that he would push for a renewed expansion of the Jewish settlements in the West Bank, whose growth has been frozen by the Labor government."
And here is Sharon on both Arafat and Peres (interview with Steve Dunleavy, New York Post, May 3, 1996): "This man Arafat is a war criminal...he should be executed. This man has so much blood on his hands, Jewish blood on his hands, Arab blood on his hands, and yet there is a prime minister called Shimon Peres shaking his hand....Mr. Peres has given Israel away. He gives up Israel; the Arabs give up nothing."
The quotes could go on and on. When Barak became Prime Minister and embarked on his last ditch effort to effect a "final status agreement," Sharon was scathing. In the Jerusalem Post (March 26,2000) Sharon scourged Barak for "weakness and rootlessness," ac-
* All dates are from the international edition of the Jerusalem Post.
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June-July 2001 - 3 - Outpost