An editorial in the Jerusalem Post the other day asks: Where's the new Peres? It's a really good question.
Shimon Peres was and is the architect and primary advocate of the Oslo project. Is it too much to ask that he show evidence of having learned something from this experience?
That the public expects such basic political hygiene is demonstrated by the collapse of Labor at the polls to a party of just 19 seats. But now there is a much more concrete reason some degree of mea culpa is necessary: to assure the public that the Sharon-Peres partnership will not repeat the same costly mistakes.
Some say the mistake of Oslo was the idea behind it, others blame only the bet on Yasser Arafat as a partner. Without resolving this debate, there should be no obstacle to agreeing that it was a mistake, once it became clear that Arafat was not complying, to make excuses for him and accuse anyone who blew the whistle of "weakening Arafat" and threatening peace.
We would like to hear â€“ not just from Sharon, but from Peres â€“ that that mistake will not be made again, that he will not say that demanding an end to terror and incitement "weakens Abu Mazen." We would like to hear Peres argue the opposite: that the way to help the Palestinian leadership confront violence is to hold them to high standards, and that low standards actually fan the flames of radicalism. We have a new Sharon. Will we have a new Peres?
The answer, of course, is "no." But it appears unlikely that that's going to derail Sharon's unity government imperative. In fact, it appears unlikely that anything, including the improbable event of a defeat in today's Likud party vote, will derail that imperative.
"There are historic opportunities before us now, and a clear opportunity to improve Israel's situation," Sharon told reporters in the Knesset Wednesday evening. "We can achieve goals that were never before possible. This is why I will not allow anyone to thwart the possibility of fulfilling these opportunities. I simply do not intend to allow it, and I will not allow a departure from the goals that the State of Israel can achieve in the year 2005."
The "historic opportunities," of course, centering on withdrawal from and the forcible eviction of the Jewish residents of the Gaza Strip. And Ariel Sharon will "not allow" disagreement, distraction, departure or dissent. Hmmm.
I'm trying to be honest with myself. Would I approve of Sharon's megalomaniacal storm trooper attitude if I agreed with his ultimate goal? Would I at least be embarrassed? I'd like to think that while applauding the ends, I'd still have the fortitude to condemn the means.
For those unfamiliar with Israel's political system, it may come as a surprise that Sharon wasn't actually elected Prime Minister of Israel in the 2003 elections (though he was in 2001 under a different system). He was elected head of the Likud party, which won a plurality of seats in the Knesset -- on the basis of a platform directly opposing many of the "historic opportunities" he now insists he will "not allow" to be lost. Many in his party still vocally oppose those "opportunities." Many others oppose them quietly but prefer to retain their jobs. In the meantime, Sharon is now inviting into his ruling coalition two parties who the voters "punished" for their views in the last election by reducing their representation substantially (Labor and Shas) and purportedly preparing to share power with the unapologetic architect of Oslo.
Something's very wrong with this picture.
Yes, I find the new noises emanating from Egypt to be positive, if somewhat puzzling. Sure, I realize that they are most certainly a by-product of the disengagement plan. Is that enough to excuse what could almost be characterized as a mini-coup d'etat by a sitting Prime Minister? All hyperbole aside, I guess we won't know the answer to that question for some time.