Until Sharon’s incapacity, I was set to write a political obituary for Shimon Peres. He’s the Eveready Energizer bunny of Israeli politics. The man keeps on going and going and going….
And he keeps on losing: He lost elections for prime minister in 1977, 1981, 1988 and 1996. In 1992, he lost the Labor party primary to Yitzhak Rabin. In 2000, he lost the Knesset election for president to Likud MK Moshe Katzav (who has performed honorably as Israel’s ceremonial head of state) and last November, he lost the Labor party leadership primary to Amir Peretz. He has never won an election outright; he first served as prime minister from 1984 to ’86 after Labor tied Likud and agreed upon a rotation agreement with Yitzhak Shamir. He served as prime minister a second time when he succeeded the slain Yitzhak Rabin for half a year in 1995-6.
At that time, he blew a 20-point lead in the polls by precipitating a wave of savage revenge attacks in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv with the assassination of a Hamas terrorist leader, Yihya Ayyash, at a time of security and stability. Then he tried to make up for lost votes with a forceful response to Hezbollah rocket attacks with a massive bombardment of southern Lebanon, which ended abruptly when artillery inadvertently killed 100 civilians huddled at Kana, near the border. This tragedy lost him many Israeli-Arab votes, which would have been his winning edge over Benjamin Netanyahu.
After losing the Labor party leadership last November, he ignored the entreaties of Amir Peretz to remain in Labor and jumped to Sharon’s new party. This move has reportedly lost Labor seven to eight Knesset mandates and stopped Peretz’s initial momentum in its tracks. Sharon promised Peres nothing beyond a relatively minor diplomatic post, but with Sharon’s exit, Peres has been placed as number two to Olmert on the Kadima electoral list. Sharon’s health crisis means that Peres’s battery is still running.
The man has almost invariably disappointed as a national leader. His true niche appears to be as a high-ranking aide to another leader, a role he played successfully for David Ben-Gurion in the 1950s and ’60s, for Yitzhak Rabin in the early ’90s, for Ariel Sharon last year, and now (perhaps) for Ehud Olmert. Hopefully, he will still make a useful contribution to Israel’s future.