Thursday, February 21, 2013

Peres and Obama: A love story

Peres and Obama: A love story

Ruthie Blum

It is a rare political leader in Israel who has defiled the concept of peace as consistently and unabashedly as President Shimon Peres. And if it weren't for the Orwellian universe that much of mankind currently occupies, his endless abuse of the term would have led to his being totally discredited, not repeatedly rewarded.

Nor does he seem to mind that most of the honors bestowed upon him for perpetuating dangerous fantasies about the Middle East in general and the Palestinians in particular have hailed from beyond Israel's borders. What counts is that the plaques keep piling up on the shelves of his office at the President's Residence in Jerusalem.

Ironically, Peres was appointed to the position that is ostensibly more pomp-and-circumstance than power precisely to keep him at bay. The damage he has done over the years to Israel's efforts to combat false ideas spread by its enemies has been extremely problematic. It is thus that his popularity abroad has always far exceeded how he is perceived at home. And what he has lacked in electoral success, he has made up for in medals — not one of which, it should be noted, was acquired on the actual battlefield.

No wonder he feels such an affinity with U.S. President Barack Obama. Though the two share very little in terms of age, culture, and religion, they have certain fundamental things in common. They both have a dim view of the West, while romanticizing the Third World. They both believe in seeing a situation as they wish it to be, not as it is. Neither has qualms about winning a Nobel Peace Prize while fertilizing the ground for the worst forms of war. Neither has a problem openly undermining Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

It was not innocent, then, when Obama — who had been overheard commiserating with French President Nicolas Sarkozy about their mutual aversion to Netanyahu — granted Peres the Presidential Medal of Freedom last June, mere months before snubbing Netanyahu in New York.

But then, Netanyahu had been urging Obama to take the Iranian threat seriously and not to link it to the Palestinian issue. "Shimon," on the other hand (as Obama referred to him fondly at the White House dinner celebrating his Medal of Freedom), "teaches us to never settle for the world as it is. We have a vision for the world as it ought to be, and we have to strive for it."

Yes, said Peres, "My vision is an Israel living in full, genuine peace, joining with all the people of the Middle East, former enemies and new friends alike, with Jerusalem becoming the capital of peace."

Since the Obama-Peres fantasy-fest in the summer, things in the Middle East have gone from bad to worse. Plenty of "former enemies," and an abundance of new ones added to the mix. The only constant is the re-election of both Obama and Netanyahu.

Peres knows that this will make Netanyahu's job that much harder this time around, particularly as Iran races towards an atom bomb with which it has boasted it will wipe Israel off the map, and Obama still courting the mullah-led regime to negotiate a "peaceful" nuclear program. He must be aware, as well, that Netanyahu is apprehensive about Obama's trip to Israel next month, when the American president is also paying a visit to Ramallah.

But Netanyahu's worries have been of little interest to Peres. It is strengthening Obama that has been on his agenda. Greeting a bipartisan delegation of U.S. senators and congressmen in Jerusalem on Sunday, he assured them that the American president "has shown both deep understanding and forthcoming support" where Israel's security needs are concerned. "It is time to return to the peace process. … We are building a government not only to govern but also to have the right vision."

That this "vision" does not take into account the absolute unwillingness of the Palestinians to negotiate anything other than the elimination of the Jewish state does not matter. As Obama said about Peres, he has "a vision for the world as it ought to be." You know, with Jerusalem as the "capital of peace."

Unable to contain his excitement at the U.S. president's imminent visit — and keen on having a key role in it — Peres announced on Monday (through a statement released by The Times of Israel) that he will be granting Obama the Israeli Presidential Medal of Distinction. It will be the first time that a sitting American president has received this award, the criteria for which are "unique and outstanding contributions to tikkun olam [bettering the world], Israeli society and the State of Israel's image around the world, and which constitute examples of initiative, innovation, creativity, and vision."

This is pure travesty.

Ruthie Blum is the author of "To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the 'Arab Spring.'"