I don't know whether there are many foreign eminences who are trying to
trap Barack Obama into their own positions. But there is certainly
one, and he is Shimon Peres, the insatiably vain president of
Israel. Peres has been telling people, at public gatherings and in
private, that in conversation with Obama on his summer visit to Israel
the then-candidate, now president-elect confided to him that the 2002
Saudi peace plan had "impressed" him greatly. Peres has,
however, denied that Obama whispered to him further that he thought
Israel would be nuts to reject it. Who can tell what, if anything,
Peres says is ever the truth?
The fact is that Peres is a liar, actually a mythomaniac. I was told this many many years ago by Golda Meir, who was honest and, if anything, honest to a fault. In any case, duplicity and sanctimony are seen as Peres' essence by the Israeli population which is why he was never elected prime minister. (He also never served in the armed forces which makes him unique to his society and surely unique to his generation. But that's another matter.) Efraim Halevy, a former head of the Mossad, has written his memoirs, Man in the Shadows, and there you can read a truly authoritative and hair-raising narrative of Peres' jealousy of Yitzhak Rabin and his delirium to become a pet of King Hussein. This is a pathological case of assiduous mendacity. By the way, Halevy has written frequently for TNR.
What Peres was clearly trying to do with his citations to Obama's views was to hitch Obama to his own delusions. Peres' are at best daffy. He still believes we are in the New Middle East. However grim the tidings Peres is ushering in the new middle east. I once was at a meeting of the United Jewish Appeal at Rockefeller Center, and an excited Peres told the assembled sceptics that Israel had new and promising bonds with Djubouti, a country at the tip of Africa but still in the new middle east. Mazal tov! I wondered if the name of this statelet was actually Jewbooty.
It is a dangerous prank to play on Obama. He needs to know that his conversations with Peres are not going to be retold when the spirit moves his host. I myself don't doubt that Peres has been going around saying that Obama thought Israel would be crackers if it didn't take up the King's offer. What I doubt is that Obama said anything like this in the first place.
Obama is too careful (and rightfully careful) to issue such obiter dicta to a person utterly without real power. And he surely would not do so as a candidate to someone widely recognized as a blabbermouth.
Still, the fact is that I, too, am impressed by the Saudi reconsideration of its stubborn habits and historical positions. But what we are talking about is not a plan but an attitude, and an attitude that still leaves all of the problems open. That is to say, closed. It is an invitation to talk, yes. And there have been some crimped happenstance encounters. But nothing more. Saudi Arabia, which does not allow open Christian worship in the country, is, in any event, now absorbed in the monarch's new idea which is conducting talkfests about religious tolerance. But, believe me, even Bibi Netanyahu would not shut the door in His Majesty's face.
I wish I could contain my disrespect for Peres. I know he is a Nobel Laureate having been chosen to share the honor with Rabin and Yassir Arafat in the wake of the Oslo Agreements which turned out not to be agreements at all. The honor and the cash were awarded to the lucky three, yes, exactly in Oslo by the Norwegian monarch, a nice modern middle class king without pretensions or grandeur. Rabin is now long-dead, assassinated by the vipers in Israeli life. But I suspect that, had he lived, he would have long ago turned back the medal and the money. He was not one to countenance fraud. Arafat, on the other hand, was a clown, and he must have taken this gesture of the Norwegian parliament as the consummation of his life
Peres still believes in Oslo even though no one else does. Last Thursday, he bowed before Queen Elizabeth II as she knighted him with a baronetcy. Alas, for poor Peres, Israel recognizes no such honors.