Into the Fray: Peres on ´Tomorrow´ - yesterday and today (JERUSALEM POST OP-ED) By MARTIN SHERMAN 06/15/12)
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Ambition drove many men to become false; to have one thought locked
in the breast, another ready on the tongue – Gaius Sallustius
Crispus (Sallust), Roman historian and politician, (86 BCE-c.35 BCE)
It is our experience that political leaders do not always mean the
opposite of what they say – Abba Eban, Israeli diplomat and
It may be instructive to keep the sentiments conveyed in the above
excerpts in mind while reading the following essay.
Next week will usher in the opening of the fourth Israeli
Grandly titled Facing Tomorrow, its list of speakers features a
cavalcade of internationally renowned dignitaries, drawn from fields
spanning nearly the entire range of human endeavor, testifying to the
president’s impressive drawing power. The program offers a myriad of
intriguing and important topics that almost certainly will impinge on
the lives of billions in the future.
As the conference follows this week’s award of the US Presidential
Medal of Freedom to Peres by Barack Obama – both men were among the
most “puzzling” recipients of the Nobel Peace prize ever – the media-
hype surrounding the event is likely to be even more intense than
Ostensibly, all this attention is well-merited.
After all, Peres is not only a figure of considerable world standing,
having had almost every conceivable international honor bestowed on
him – but has, to a large degree, restored the aura of presidential
dignity to the office, so severely undermined by his predecessor.
So next week’s Facing Tomorrow Conference might be an apt opportunity
for a glimpse at Peres’s (apparently forgotten) “Yesterday” and an
assessment of the route he has traversed in attaining his position at
the pinnacle of world acclaim.
The fruits of failure
Peres’s extraordinary ability, passion and energy are beyond dispute.
But so it would seem is his unbridled ambition, making the caveats in
the introductory excerpts highly relevant.
During the state’s first decade, as a young protege of David Ben-
Gurion, he is credited with playing a leading role in setting up much
of the foundations for the nascent nation’s military infrastructure
that has been so crucial in ensuring its survival and its
technological edge – including Israel Aircraft Industries (today
Israel Aerospace Industries), the acquisition of advanced combat
aircraft from France and the establishment of the nuclear facility in
As defense minister as the time of the Entebbe raid in 1976, many
identify him as providing the political will to push through the
decision to carry out the now legendary operation.
But perversely, it has not been Peres’s successes – but his failures –
that have catapulted him to international stardom. It was not his’s
dramatic feats in the service of his nation that brought him global
celebrity status, but his disastrous fiascoes in the pursuit of his
wildly unrealistic illusions.
It was the Oslo Accords – which have long since imploded into bloody
ruin – that brought him the 1994 Nobel Peace prize.
It was his lofty vision of a “New Middle East” – with peace and
prosperity stretching from the Maghreb to the Persian Gulf – that
caught the imagination of so many but now appears nothing but a
Thus it was not his considerable contributions to Israeli security
that made him such a sought after figure on the global stage, but
rather his adoption of the role of supranational statesman on a noble
quest for regional peace, a quest that precipitated nothing but death
‘Tomorrow’ as a brand-name
Peres has always been obsessed with “Tomorrow.” In many ways he has
appropriated it as his profession trademark, in an endeavor to brand
himself as future-oriented statesman. And while there was much to
substantiate that image in an earlier era, his predictive acumen
seems to have deserted him in later years.
One of his first forays in to “Tomorrow-territory” was a programmatic
book he authored as chairman of the Labor Party, just after it had
lost power for the first time, to Menachem Begin’s Likud. Titled
Tomorrow is Now and published in 1978, it laid out Peres’s
prescriptive vision for the future conduct of the affairs of the
In many ways, the book – available only in Hebrew – is an astonishing
For those who are only familiar with the post-Oslowian version of
Peres, it offers staggering surprises.
For the citizens of Israel – and anyone concerned with the fate of
the Jewish state – it raises deeply disturbing questions regarding
the judgment, credibility and integrity of those who have served in
positions of senior leadership, and serious doubts as to the trust
that can be placed in their pronouncements to the nation.
Prudent pre-Oslowian predictions
In Tomorrow is Now, pre-Oslowian Peres gives a chillingly accurate
prediction of would occur if the policies endorsed by post-Oslowian
Peres were in fact adopted, sternly cautioning as to the realities
liable to emerge should Israel accept the idea of a Palestinian state.
“The establishment of such [a Palestinian] state means the inflow of
combat-ready Palestinian forces (more than 25,000 men under arms)
into Judea and Samaria; this force, together with the local youth,
will double itself in a short time. It will not be short of weapons
or other [military] equipment, and in a short space of time, an
infrastructure for waging war will be set up in Judea, Samaria and
the Gaza Strip. Israel will have problems in preserving day-to-day
security, which may drive the country into war, or undermine the
morale of its citizens.”
He was of course proved right – for these were precisely the
realities that precipitated the IDF’s Operation Defensive Shield
Judea and Samaria in 2002 – and later Operation Cast Lead in Gaza in
Pre-Oslowian Peres continued, warning of the grave consequences
further territorial concessions advocated by post-Oslowian Peres
would entail: “If a Palestinian state is established, it will be
armed to the teeth.
Within it there will be bases of the most extreme terrorist forces,
who will be equipped with anti-tank and anti-aircraft shoulder-
launched rockets, which will endanger not only random passersby, but
also every airplane and helicopter taking off in the skies of Israel
and every vehicle traveling along the major traffic routes in the
“In time of war, the frontiers of the Palestinian state will
constitute an excellent staging point for mobile forces to mount
attacks on infrastructure installations vital for Israel’s existence,
to impede the freedom of action of the Israeli air force in the skies
over Israel, and to cause bloodshed among the population...in areas
adjacent to the frontier line.”
Territory’s enduring significance
But it was not only low-intensity conflict and terror-related dangers
that concerned pre-Oslowian Peres. He expressed grave concern over
conventional warfare threats as well. Although post-Oslowian Peres
commonly dismisses the importance of territory in the age of modern
weaponry, pre- Oslowian Peres knew better, articulating a cogent
rationale why the enhanced range, mobility and firepower of today’s
weapon systems enhance its strategic significance: “In 1948, it may
have been possible to defend the ‘thin waist’ of Israel’s most
densely populated area, when the most formidable weapon used by both
sides was the cannon of limited mobility and limited fire-power.
“In the 20th century, with the development of the rapid mobility of
armies, the defensive importance of territorial expanse has
increased... Without a border which affords security, a country is
doomed to destruction in war,” he wrote.
Regarding Israel’s minuscule dimensions, pre-Oslowian Peres
elaborated: “It is, of course, doubtful whether territorial expanse
can provide absolute deterrence. However, the lack of minimal
territorial expanse places a country in a position of an absolute
lack of deterrence. This in itself constitutes an almost compulsive
temptation to attack Israel from all directions.”
Dismissing Arab credibility
Particularly disconcerting is the dramatic dichotomy between Peres’s
pre-Oslowian denigration of the value of agreements with the Arabs
and his post-Oslowian enthusiasm for them – particularly with regard
Pre-Oslowian Peres warned: “Demilitarization of the West Bank also
seems a dubious measure. The major issue is not [attaining] an
agreement, but ensuring its actual implementation in practice. The
number of agreements which the Arabs have violated is no less than
number which they have kept.”
It is difficult to imagine that any later, post- Oslo, experience has
served to enhance his confidence on this matter.
Indeed, Peres maintained his deep cynicism regarding Palestinian
trustworthiness right up to the conclusion of the Oslo Accords.
Amazingly, in his The New Middle East, published in 1993, he
asks: “Even if the Palestinians agree that their state will have no
army or weapons, who can guarantee that a Palestinian army would not
be mustered later to encamp at the gates of Jerusalem and the
approaches to the lowlands?”
He continues: “And if the Palestinian state would be unarmed, how
would it block terrorist acts perpetrated by extremists,
fundamentalists or irredentists?”
Peres on settlements – yesterday.
But perhaps the most astounding of all is pre-Oslowian Peres’s stance
on the issue of “settlements” and the imperative he saw for their
development. He urged Israel:
"to create a continuous stretch of new settlements; to bolster
Jerusalem and the surrounding hills, from the north, from the east,
and from the south and from the west, by means of the establishment
of townships, suburbs and villages – Ma’aleh Adumim, Ofra, Gilo, Beit
El, Givon – to ensure that the capital and its flanks are secured,
and underpinned by urban and rural settlements.
These settlements will be connected to the Coastal Plain and the
Jordan Valley by new lateral axis roads; the settlements along the
Jordan River are intended to establish the Jordan River as the
[Israel’s] de facto security border; however, it is the settlements
on the western slopes of the hills of Samaria and Judea which will
deliver us from the curse of Israel’s ‘narrow waist.’”
No kidding! He really wrote that.
Just imagine how distressing it must be for the hundreds of thousands
of Israelis who rallied to implement pre-Oslowian Peres’s call
to “deliver us from the curse of Israel’s “narrow waist” and
establish settlements that post-Oslowian Peres now denounces.
Would a bitter sense of betrayal not be totally understandable – even
A crisis of credibility?
The breathtaking divergence between the positions of pre-and post-
Oslowian Peres raised hugely troubling questions as to the
credibility of Israeli leaders – and the store the Israel citizenry –
indeed the Jewish people – can place in their words.
While people are, of course, entitled to change their minds – and
Peres may indeed have had a change of mind – one cannot but wonder
what could have possibly induced him:
• to abandon a position that proved so well-founded for one that
proved so wildly unfounded?
• to adopt a policy he previously rejected as too perilous for the
nation’s security – particularly as his forebodings all proved
• to urge his people down a path that he himself warned was
disastrous – especially as all the predicted perils did in fact
How can such conduct be reconciled with a genuine concern for the
national interest? And if it cannot, what conclusions should be
Perhaps the insights in introductory excerpts as to the nature
of “Ambition” might provide a clue to the answer? (© 1995-2011, The
Jerusalem Post 06/15/12)
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