Peres and the Peace Process
Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
Israel’s President Shimon Peres opened the 12th annual Herzliya Conference on Tuesday afternoon by addressing two themes which undoubtedly will repeat themselves over the next few days, Iran and the lack of a peace process. Since Kahntentions dealt with Iran very recently, there is a need to focus on the matter of a non-existing peace process.
Shimon Peres is the only Israeli Prime Minister who never led his party to an electoral victory and he is the last politically active survivor of the first round of Israeli politicians, now holding the honorific role of President. Never a shrinking violet, Peres does let his job or title get in the way of speaking his mind about whatever issues Israel faced. With regard to the peace process, Peres remains one of the strongest advocates of its aggressive pursuit, which is basically what he told the audience as he opened the conference.
The strength of Peres’ argument in favor of sustaining an on-going dialogue and conversation with the Palestinians reduces to a very easy argument. There is nothing to lose in talking since Israel only hurts itself in public opinion if it fails to do so. Israel enters discussions at this point in time from a position of strength strategically and militarily. There may be some diplomatic weaknesses or gaps, but Israel has virtually nothing to lose on the international stage and especially in the eyes of its most important ally, the U.S.
For Peres, there is no acceptable, plausible rationale to avoid sustaining talks with the Palestinians. Similarly, there is no downside for Israel in continuing developing and/or expanding economic ties and development possibilities between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Peres sees in this climate only positive results and no risks.
Now for the Israeli President, his positions on peace carry with it no political liabilities. He is in the fifth year of a seven year term at the conclusion of which he will just shy of his 91st birthday, so he is not likely to seek a second term. Unlike a cabinet member or the prime minister, espousing these views today would not be accepted by the Government; but Peres needs to answer to no one and no present or future electorate. There is no domestic constituency or coalition member to whom or for whom Peres needs to protect himself. Peres can express his views for the general best interests of the country as he sees them, regardless of the extent that some try to marginalize him. He speaks his mind more often than any previous Israeli President, perhaps because he is the first former Prime Minister to serve as an Israeli President as well.
Finally, Prime Minister Netanyahu, has been speaking daily as the talks with the Palestinians deteriorated and broke up—with both sides to blame for its dissolution. He and Peres historically have come to most issues from very different political perspectives. The blame game which the Israelis and Palestinians have played will probably continue with little constructive movement; despite the fact that there is virtually no cost involved, except politics.