Shimon Peres Addresses AIPAC Conference
But he came not to flatter Obama, but to adopt the American president's mantra. Quoting from Obama's inaugural address, Peres declared that Israel was in the business of "the outstretched arm." He reiterated in bold tones that Israel offers peace "with all Arab nations and all Arab people." And to those with a "clenched fist," he declared: "Enough. Enough war. Enough destruction. Enough hatred." He is in fact grasping Obama's hand, daring the Palestinians and Arab states to come to the negotiating table.
But Peres is not naïve. And he spoke at length about the "dark cloud" of extremists hovering over the Middle East and the looming "nuclear threat." He declared, "We shall not give up. We shall not surrender. We shall not lose our nerve." Iran, he explained, has a great people and history. Iran used to "enrich the world, now they enrich uranium." Iran is "not threatened by anybody" yet acquires missiles and promotes "divisions" by supporting Hezbollah and Hamas, he explained. The peace that Israel seeks, he argued, must be a "real peace" for all the children of the Middle East. As for the Palestinians, he said, "The Palestinian people have the right to govern themselves. We don't want to be their masters."
He then announced, "Today there is no difference between the American position and the Israeli position." Both, he said, should pursue peace "as swiftly as possible." He asked, "Why wait?" And with a nod to the Saudis for their 2002 peace proposal, he acknowledged that nation's "profound change." Then, with calls to visit Israel, a salute to the students in attendance, and a reminder that "time is always short, but the time is now," he was done.
But what was he up to? After all, whom is Israel supposed to negotiate with? And what is to be done about that dark cloud over Israel? Well, that's the rub.
As for the Palestinians, Peres is batting the ball into their court. What can they do and what can they negotiate? Peres, it seems, has decided to follow at least the rhetorical lead of Obama and declare the peace process open for business. Israel is not about to give away the store for nothing, of course. And it may be that the Palestinians are utterly incapable of forming a viable negotiating team. But that is for them to figure out. And perhaps baby steps in advance of grand bargains must come first.
In the meantime, the signal was clear. Israel won't see its survival threatened. A nuclear-armed Iran is not conceivable to a nation that rose from the ashes of the Holocaust. So the U.S. can talk and pursue sanctions against Tehran, but in the end Israel, as Peres said, will not "surrender" -- or accept an Iran with nuclear weapons.
The hitch in all this may come if the Obama administration decides to pressure Israel to offer up concessions in the absence of a meaningful guarantee of peace. But that is all in the future. For today, the relationship between Israel and the U.S. is eternal. And Peres is not about to let the ties that bind the two friends fray.