Israel’s upcoming elections have something in common with all Israeli elections for the past 56 years: Shimon Peres. Peres was first elected to the Knesset in 1959. For the 2015 elections, he is getting indirectly involved by adding his voice to the lambasting of the current government. As for Tzipi Livni, the former minister of justice and the current partner of Labor party leader Isaac Herzog, she seems to have taken a leaf out of the Peres book. She prides herself on having convinced the Obama Administration to push off the Security Council vote on Palestinian statehood so as not to throw more Israelis into the arms of the right. In the 1996 campaign, candidate Shimon Peres declared that he had convinced PLO chief Yasser Arafat to put terrorist attacks on hold during the elections.
Peres’ latest comment against the government came after publication of two reports on poverty in Israel. “You can’t feed hungry children and senior citizens with mere declarations,” Peres said. “We know how to find money for wars; surely we can find money to fight poverty.” Shortly after, Israeli journalist Assaf Lieberman posted on his Facebook page the recording of a November 1989 interview he conducted with then finance minister Shimon Peres. The interview took place right after the annual publication of the poverty report. “Do you think there are hungry people in Israel today?” Peres was asked. “What is that, an investigation?” Peres replied angrily before cutting the interview short.
In his recent comments, Peres seemed to suggest that the solution to poverty is government handouts. But when he served as prime minister between 1984 and 1986, and as finance minister between 1988 and 1990, Peres implemented Thatcherite policies. His 1985 economic stabilization plan included sharp cuts in government expenditures and deficits, a freeze of wages, a contractionary monetary policy, and the privatization of government-owned companies. Under Peres’ leadership, Israel’s Labor party reconstructed itself in the shape of its sister parties in Britain and Germany in the 1990s, realizing that wealth needs to be produced before being redistributed. During elections, however, politicians such as Shimon Peres tend to rely on the short memory (or ignorance) of voters.
On the economy, yesterday’s promoters of Thatcherism would have us believe today that big government is the answer to poverty. On foreign policy, those who bring upon us foreign opprobrium present themselves as the only ones capable of ending Israel’s alleged international isolation.
In the Peres narrative, the 1993 Oslo Accord ended Israel’s international isolation. In truth, however, Israel’s international standing improved before the Oslo Accord, and before the 1992 electoral victory of the Labor party. In 1991, the Soviet Union renewed its diplomatic relations with Israel and the UN General Assembly repealed its 1975 resolution equating Zionism with racism. In 1992 (under Yitzhak Shamir’s government), Israel established diplomatic relations with China and with India.
As for ties with the United States, there was indeed a crisis in 1991, but it was fomented by Shimon Peres. Shamir’s Likud government had asked the Bush Administration for a $10 billion loan guarantee to fund the massive absorption of immigrants from the Soviet Union. Peres told the Bush Administration to postpone the signature of the loan by demanding an Israeli commitment not to spend any of the loan money beyond the Green Line. Since Shamir refused, the 1992 Labor campaign accused him of jeopardizing the relationship with the United States and of harming the Israeli economy. Today, when John Kerry threatens Israel with international isolation, he merely repeats the line of Israeli politicians. As for the recent votes of European parliaments recognizing “Palestine,” they were all encouraged by Israelis who try to scare Israeli voters with their country’s alleged isolation, supposedly brought upon us by Benjamin Netanyahu.
Yitzhak Rabin used to call Shimon Peres “a tireless schemer.” Napoléon Bonaparte had cruder words still for Talleyrand who, in September 1808, secretly asked Tsar Alexander to reject the alliance with France proposed by Napoléon. Like Peres, Talleyrand was a master of deceit and political survival. He successively served the regimes of Louis XVI, of the Revolution, of Napoléon, of Louis XVIII, of Charles X, and of Louis-Philippe. They all distrusted him, but thought he was indispensable –just as Netanyahu loathed Peres but figured that, as a ceremonial President, he was a PR asset for Israel.
Today, the Labor party seems to believe that Peres is indispensable for its victory – as he was in 1992 thanks to the loan guarantee crisis he fomented. Except that in 1992, most Russian immigrants voted Labor after being told there was no money for them because of Shamir. Since then, their votes have gone mostly to the right. This time around, it might be harder to fool uninformed voters.