The Spine

Obama And Peres


I don't know whether there are many foreign eminences who are trying to
trap Barack Obama into their own positions.  But there is certainly
one, and he is Shimon Peres, the insatiably vain president of
Israel.  Peres has been telling people, at public gatherings and in
private, that in conversation with Obama on his summer visit to Israel
the then-candidate, now president-elect confided to him that the 2002
Saudi peace plan had "impressed" him greatly.  Peres has,
however, denied that Obama whispered to him further that he thought
Israel would be nuts to reject it.  Who can tell what, if anything,
Peres says is ever the truth?
The fact is that Peres is a liar, actually a mythomaniac.  I was
told this many many years ago by Golda Meir, who was honest and, if
anything, honest to a fault.  In any case, duplicity and sanctimony
are seen as Peres' essence by the Israeli population which is why he was
never elected prime minister.  (He also never served in the armed
forces which makes him unique to his society and surely unique to his
generation.  But that's another matter.)  Efraim Halevy, a
former head of the Mossad, has written his memoirs, Man in the
Shadows, and there you can read a truly authoritative and
hair-raising narrative of Peres' jealousy of Yitzhak Rabin and his
delirium to become a pet of King Hussein.  This is a pathological
case of assiduous mendacity.  By the way, Halevy has written frequently for TNR.
What Peres was clearly trying to do with his citations to Obama's views
was to hitch Obama to his own delusions.  Peres' are at best
daffy.  He still believes we are in the New Middle
East.  However grim the tidings Peres is ushering in the new middle
east.  I once was at a meeting of the United Jewish Appeal at
Rockefeller Center, and an excited Peres told the assembled sceptics that
Israel had new and promising bonds with Djubouti, a country at the tip of
Africa but still in the new middle east.  Mazal tov!  I
wondered if the name of this statelet was actually Jewbooty.
It is a dangerous prank to play on Obama.  He needs to know that his
conversations with Peres are not going to be retold when the spirit moves
his host.  I myself don't doubt that Peres has been going around
saying that Obama thought Israel would be crackers if it didn't take up
the King's offer.  What I doubt is that Obama said anything like
this in the first place.
Obama is too careful (and rightfully careful) to issue such obiter
dicta to a person utterly without real power.  And he surely
would not do so as a candidate to someone widely recognized as a
Still, the fact is that I, too, am impressed by the Saudi reconsideration
of its stubborn habits and historical positions.  But what we are
talking about is not a plan but an attitude, and an attitude that still
leaves all of the problems open.  That is to say, closed.  It
is an invitation to talk, yes.  And there have been some crimped
happenstance encounters.  But nothing more.  Saudi Arabia,
which does not allow open Christian worship in the country, is, in any
event, now absorbed in the monarch's new idea which is conducting
talkfests about religious tolerance.  But, believe me, even Bibi
Netanyahu would not shut the door in His Majesty's face. 
I wish I could contain my disrespect for Peres.  I know he is a
Nobel Laureate having been chosen to share the honor with Rabin and
Yassir Arafat in the wake of the Oslo Agreements which turned out not to
be agreements at all.  The honor and the cash were awarded to the
lucky three, yes, exactly in Oslo by the Norwegian monarch, a nice modern
middle class king without pretensions or grandeur.  Rabin is now
long-dead, assassinated by the vipers in Israeli life.  But I
suspect that, had he lived, he would have long ago turned back the medal
and the money.  He was not one to countenance fraud.  Arafat,
on the other hand, was a clown, and he must have taken this gesture of
the Norwegian parliament as the consummation of his life
Peres still believes in Oslo even though no one else does.  Last
Thursday, he bowed before Queen Elizabeth II as she knighted him with a
baronetcy.  Alas, for poor Peres, Israel recognizes no such honors.

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