Monday, September 22, 2003

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The William Jennings Bryan of Israel

The New York Times reports on a gala 80th birthday party for Shimon Peres, the grand old man of Israel's Labor Party. Some highlights:

Bill Clinton serenaded him. Mikhail S. Gorbachev saluted him. And the comedian Jerry Seinfeld, in a video greeting from his home, suggested that Mr. Peres extend his peacemaking horizons beyond the Middle East, to include "the Far East, and here, in East Hampton."

The elder statesman of Israeli politics and the country's leading dove, Mr. Peres has a world-class set of friends. From Austria to Angola, they flew in to join several thousand Israelis for the birthday event....

Tonight's slickly produced program resembled a show-business awards ceremony. Video testimonials came from Henry A. Kissinger, Barbra Streisand and Woody Allen.

Presentations included children singing peace songs, parodies of Mr. Peres and tearful testimonials from terror victims.

Mr. Clinton, who is wildly popular among many Israelis, received a standing ovation whenever he was introduced. He reviewed Mr. Peres's lengthy résumé, which includes two stints as prime minister, and almost every senior cabinet post. Mr. Peres was the architect of Israel's nuclear program in the 1950's, and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994 for his role in the first Israeli-Palestinian peace deal a year earlier.

It is, perhaps, indecorous to point out a man's flaws on his 80th birthday. [If you were a high-falutin' op-ed columnist, maybe. You're just a blogger--ed. Well, that does make me feel better.] Peres' legacy in Israeli history will probably not be as sparkling as his birthday party suggests.

Although Peres has been Prime Minister twice, he may be the most incompetent politician in Israel's short history. How incompetent? Peres, when leading the Labor Party into a general election, never won an electoral victory over the Likud party. The closest he came was in the mid-1980's when, despite the previous Likud government contributing to hyperinflation, Peres was only able to get Labor to win enough seats to enter a power-sharing deal with Likud. In the mid-1990s, despite a Nobel Peace Prize and a martyred leader in Rabin, Peres lost to Benjamin Netanyahu.

Peres may be respected worldwide, but in Israel he's the William Jennings Bryan of politics. Bryan was a three-time Democratic nominee for President and a three-time loser in the general election. Bryan may have achieved the ultimate Pyrrhic victory when he successfully prosecuted the Scopes monkey trial but lost the larger public debate on evolution.

I hope I'm wrong, but I fear that the Oslo accords will be Peres' monkey trial. Perhaps the most telling sentence in the NYT article, and the one that regretfully consigns Peres to a minor place in the annals of history: "No prominent Palestinian or Arab figures were present, though Mr. Peres has many longstanding relationships in the Arab world."

posted by Dan on 09.22.03 at 10:15 AM


"No prominent Palestinian or Arab figures were present, though Mr. Peres has many longstanding relationships in the Arab world."

Good God, what Palestinian leader do you imagine would be stupid enough to attend an Isreali politician's birthday party in today's climate? The two peoples are at war, you fool.

posted by: flory on 09.22.03 at 10:15 AM [permalink]

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