A president should not take sides on hot-button issues during an election campaign. Even if his views are well known, he must be extra cautious in such times and abide by the biblical maxim of the prophets, "The prudent shall keep silence in that time" (Amos 5:13).
President Shimon Peres is well aware of what is expected of him. This week, when he delivered a speech praising Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas as a potential peace partner, he noted that some may think he should not state views on which there is no overwhelming consensus, so as to avoid the perception that he is improperly using his above-the-fray status; special rules apply to the office of the presidency, just as military officers, teachers and judges are expected to keep their political views to themselves.
Peres' comments, on Sunday and Tuesday, that Israel should aggressively pursue peace talks with Abbas and explore direct talks with Hamas set off a political firestorm that eclipsed what was the most troubling aspect of his comments — the things he left out.
Peres is in favor of a two-state solution. So am I. Peres is not truly convinced that the Likud means what it says. Neither am I. In fact, Likud MK Tzipi Hotovely reinforced those doubts on Monday at a political panel of women from various parties.
In his praise of Abbas, Peres ignored the latter's anti-peace record. Abbas was the one who forced the late PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat to end the Camp David summit in 2000 after then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak wanted to talk about dividing Jerusalem. Similarly, he bolted peace talks when then Prime Minister Ehud Olmert put on the table a peace offer that granted a partial right of return to the descendants of the Palestinian refugees from 1948. Abbas' recent proclamation that he would no longer insist on a right of return and had no plans to return to his hometown in Safed is nothing more than a Palestinian smokescreen.
If he doesn’t pine for his home in Safed, it is because he has his eyes trained on the president's house in the would-be Palestinian capital of Jerusalem. He has not relinquished the right of return when it comes to the millions of Palestinians who have refugee status. Somehow, Peres chose to omit that fact. The Israeli president actually went a step further when he said he had known Abbas for 30 years and could vouch for his keen desire for peace. On what grounds? Is Peres relying on former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's memoirs, in which she described her amazement after realizing how far Olmert was willing to go in the negotiations and how Abbas got cold feet?
Peres is not supposed to take on the role of an "impartial U.N. judge." In his attempt to make an objective assessment of the peace process, he faulted the Israeli leadership but took no issue with Abbas' track record as a negotiator. Clearly he is in the tank for the Palestinians on this issue.
Even more infuriating is the claim that Peres simply said what he has always communicated on his overseas trips as a representative of the Israeli government. Great. But so what? Israel would be best served if Peres hunkers down in his official residence until the polls close on Jan. 22.