Shimon Peres is celebrating. Shimon Peres? The whole world is celebrating with him!
What has he got to celebrate?
Well, he has reached the age of 80. A respectable age. I can’t begrudge him. (After all, I myself am now 80 years old, and I just had a celebration, too.)
When one gets to be 80 years old, it is customary to invite some friends round. So Peres invited a few pals, too. Such as Bill Clinton and Mikhail Gorbachev, Frederick de Klerk and Joschka Fischer, the presidents of Slovenia, Germany and Malta, not to mention the Ivory Coast, several billionaires, an assortment of ministers from various countries, some actors and singers and the holocaustist Claude Lantzman. Diplomacy, entertainment and the holocaust, a tasteful mixture.
A whole luxury hotel has been booked for the 400 exalted guests, 1200 policeman will be mobilized, streets in two cities will be closed. Excellent. Something like the triumph of a victorious Roman Imperator coming home from the wars.
And that is the weird part.
What has he got to celebrate, after all?
He is the chairman of the Labor Party. The Labor Party lies in ruins. It has ceased to exist as a functioning party. Its leaders haunt the corridors like ghosts. Its local branches are in a shambles. It has no program. It has no plan. Nobody knows what it wants. Nobody knows what it exists for. If, indeed, it does exist.
True, Peres does not bear the responsibility for this collapse alone. Its main architect was Ehud Barak, the champion of disasters, who spread the historic lie that we have no partner for peace. With this he opened the way for Ariel Sharon’s rise to power. But Shimon Peres joined Sharon’s government, served him loyally, disseminated around the world the myth that Sharon is a man of peace, paved his way in Washington and lent a willing hand to all his atrocities–the ‘targeted killings", the wholesale demolition of homes, the enlargement of the settlements at a frantic pace.
Now the Labor Party has reached such a miserable state that Sharon is not even interested in having it as a junior partner in his government. What does he need it for? He has got Tommy Lapid. There are few sights more pitiful than a worn-out whore whom nobody wants anymore.
Since Peres was appointed party chairman by default–with no other credible candidate standing – it has the atmosphere of a graveyard. No whiff of fresh (or indeed any) air reaches it. Nothing happens. From time to time some television channel devotes a few minutes to a party caucus, out of pity or schadenfreude.
Shimon Peres has no time to deal with the Party, because he is busy with the party. That is a full-time job with overtime.
It is also a disaster. The disappearance of the Labor Party has left a black hole in the political system. No democracy can function without an efficient and combative opposition. When the government is headed by a person like Ariel Sharon, who is leading Israel towards a predictable catastrophe, the absence of an opposition is a national crime.
Peres does not think so. "What do we need an opposition for?" he demanded recently in one of his innumerable interviews in the media. And indeed, what for? After all, Peres does not hide his longing for a seat in the government, any government, even (or especially) a government under Ariel Sharon.
And why not? What is the great difference between Sharon and Peres, apart from Sharon’s charisma and Peres’ record of failures? Is Peres against the assassination of Palestinian leaders? No. Does he oppose the "removal" of Yasser Arafat? In one of his interviews, he spoke against it feebly, but he is not mobilizing his party against the approaching disaster. Demolition of homes? Uprooting of trees? A thunderous silence, at best.
In his long career, Peres has been everything. He has been an extreme hawk and a cooing dove. He is the father of Israel’s nuclear bomb and (after intense lobbying) a Nobel Peace Prize laureate. One of the main initiators of the 1956 war, in the company of two foul colonialist regimes (France and Britain, at the time), and a partner to the Oslo agreement. The father of the West Bank settlements and the creator of the Good Fence on the Lebanese border. The advocate of the Lebanon invasion and, just a few days later, the main speaker at the Peace Now demonstration against it.
He has supported everything. At one time he declared that Israel is not a Middle Eastern but a "Mediterranean" country. For years has advocated the "Jordanian Option" that ignored the existence of the Palestinian people. Then he shook the hand of Arafat and invented the New Middle East. And through all these years he has never, never won an election.
What has he got to celebrate?
Shimon Peres bears a major part of the responsibility for the woeful state that Israel is now in, for the continuation of conflict with the Palestinians, for destroying the Israeli peace camp, for strengthening the Likud’s hold on power, for paving the way for Ariel Sharon, who is quite capable of bringing about the destruction of Israel.
Even in the declining years of the Roman empire, they did not celebrate a triumph for a defeated and humiliated general. Only in Israel. Because, in Israel, nothing succeeds like failure.
URI AVNERY is an Israeli writer and peace activist with Gush Shalom. He is one of the writers featured in The Other Israel: Voices of Dissent and Refusal. One of his essays is also included in Cockburn and St. Clair’s forthcoming book: The Politics of Anti-Semitism. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.