President Shimon Peres is a man of extraordinary, brilliant insight. In just a few words he can express ideas of great profundity. I'm certain that a collection of his quotes will one day become an international best-seller, enjoyed by politicians, trivia buffs and journalists alike.
In an interview the president gave to Israeli journalist Ronen Bergman, published last week in the New York Times, Peres said: "This idea, that history is a horse that can be held by the tail, is a foolish idea."
You're so right, Peres. In fact, I know some very important people who, for decades, have been holding on to the horse's tail. The horse died a long time ago, yet they still wag it back and forth relentlessly, especially during election season.
Regarding the attitude Israel should adopt toward the Arab Spring, Peres also had an interesting answer: "What has a greater impact, the ocean on the island, or the island on the ocean?" In all his humility the president admitted that neither he nor the interviewer had any impact on the dramatic changes in Egypt and other Arab states.
When asked about being surrounded by female aides in many of the positions he has held, Peres retorted that "Each woman is born a mother, and every man dies a baby." Way to go, Peres.
Peres also admitted that he was "pressed hard" to run against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the upcoming election, but refused to elaborate why he chose not to. In his own words, he held very long talks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, which included reaching several understandings.
I was especially touched by Peres' wistful tone when speaking about Yasser Arafat, his Nobel Peace Prize partner. In Peres' view, it would have been easier to advance the peace process with Arafat. Even if I am inclined to believe Peres, I am confident that no one else does, including himself.
In the short history of the State of Israel, the degree to which this president has interfered in the election process is unprecedented. Openly and discreetly, in public meetings and behind closed doors, Peres has tried assisting Left-wing and centrist parties – he was once a member of some of them – to topple the Likud government. The Israeli media, and now the foreign press, provide him ample opportunity to express views that fundamentally counter the Israeli government's positions.
It's easy to understand why the president is in a funk. For decades he optimistically fed Israelis a false vision of longed-for peace, simply waiting at the gate for us to let it in and change our lives. This peace cost us more lives than several of Israel's wars. In the past there were many who bought his vision of a new Middle East. His dreams of peace won him a Nobel Peace Prize.
Now that Israeli citizens have already gotten the message and distanced themselves from foolish visions of imminent peace, the president is trying to rehabilitate its honor as well as his own.
The institution of the presidency carries great weight in a multicultural nation with intense societal rifts. It's an institution that should rise above politics to reflect a kind of national consensus.
But when the president gets involved in politics, he undermines himself, along with the already-weakened presidency. If this is any indication of where the presidency is headed, perhaps we should abolish it now and save a lot of money in the process.