By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
Every year Israel’s ambassadors from all over the world come together for a briefing. Some 150 of them are in Jerusalem now.
Normally, the Foreign Minister is their host, but Avigdor Lieberman is at present out of office and due to appear in court on charges of having improperly manipulated the appointment of a chum who had leaked to him secret information about other indictments that have now been dropped. The matter was almost ready for plea bargain when Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon suddenly remembered that the police hadn’t interviewed him on the matter; he has now supplied additional, possibly incriminating, information. By all accounts, Ayalon’s inspiration came when his boss Lieberman dropped him from the party’s Knesset list thus ending the former’s political career. What a coincidence!
The Director-General of the Foreign Ministry, now left in charge of the programme for the ambassadors’ reunion arranged for them to pay a visit to the country’s President, Shimon Peres. Peres used the opportunity to talk to his guests about the peace process and to assure them, having known Mahmoud Abass for thirty years, that the President of the Palestinian Authority is indeed a trustworthy partner with whom Israel must negotiate a peace agreement resulting in the so-called two-state solution.
Officials of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Likud party, running together with Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu, were outraged. They rightly perceived Peres’ speech as an attack on their leaders who have been repeating the right-wing mantra that Israel has no partner with whom to negotiate. Here’s Israel’s most respected citizen with an international reputation second to none who says it as it is and implies that the one tipped to continue as Prime Minister is misleading the voters!
The peace process that had hitherto been virtually absent from the debate, because few political parties raised it, has now become front-and-centre. The objection by the spokespersons of Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu that Peres is out of touch with public opinion has also been challenged by two polls that indicate that probably the majority of the electorate wants a negotiated peace. There’re reasons to suspect that those who say that Israel has no partner don’t themselves want to be partners in peace making as manifest in their frantic building of more housing in the settlements and in East Jerusalem,
The politician who stands most to gain by the Peres statement is Tzipi Livni who has a record of having negotiated with Abass and others when she was Foreign Minister in the Olmert government and is one of the few now running for office who speaks of the imperative of a negotiated peace with the Palestinians.
It’s not impossible that Peres – who has a long record before he became President as a sly, even subversive, politician – had that in mind even if, or perhaps because, it would upset the Prime Minister and his party. But it’s equally possible – and the two options aren’t mutually exclusive – that he knows, prophetically, that the future of Israel, its security and its prosperity, depend on peace with the Palestinians, particularly now when the so-called Arab Awakening has created turmoil in the Middle East.
I heard Peres say to an Israeli journalist earlier this year, seemingly in jest, that (now at 89) he’s only at the beginning of his career. In view of his wake-up call to the ambassadors there may be more truth to it than even he could imagine.