Saturday, June 23, 2012

Shimon Peres: The Anti-Bibi

Last Week, President Barack Obama honored Israeli President Shimon Peres with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor a President can confer on a Civilian. The event was a heartening moment to display solidarity between the two countries, with President Obama praising Peres' longstanding efforts to achieve peace with Palestine, and his service to the state of Israel. Peres meanwhile, spoke highly of President Obama and stood in solidarity with the American leader in regards to his support for US policy towards Iran.

Since taking office, President Obama has enjoyed a less-than-friendly relationship with Israel's head of government, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, infamously having a "hot-mic" scandal when he agreed with then-French President Nikolas Sarkozy's dislike for Netanyahu. The Obama and Netanyahu Administrations has led to disagreements not only on Iran's nuclear program and the probability of a military strike by Israel, but as well as ever-looming question about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Early in his Administration, President Obama pushed for a settlement freeze by the Israeli government and worked to offer a peace solution as an alternative to Palestine having the UN vote to recognize them; in both instances, Netanyahu fiercely opposed the Administration. In turn, his 2012 re-election opponent Governor Romney has taken to saying he will do "the opposite" of President Obama in regards to Israel.

In turn, the ideological and policy disagreements give President Obama and President Peres a common bond. Peres and Netanyahu have a sordid past and hail from differing ideologies in regards to Zionism. Peres was a protege of David Ben-Gurion, the first Prime Minister of Israel and a proponent of left-wing Labor Zionism, and Netanyahu was the son of Benzion Netanyahu, a Revisionist Zionist who slammed Menachem Begin for conceding the Sinai in the Camp David Accords. Peres was also involved in the Oslo Accords, a deal that prompted then Opposition Leader Netanyahu to opine made the leader of Peres' Party Yitzhak Rabin "worse than Neville Chamberlain." Peres and Netanyahu have clashed not only ideologically, but at the polls as well, when in 1996, Netanyahu beat Peres by less than half a percent.

However, in the modern day, Peres has served as a sort of foil to the hard line policies of Netanyahu, taking almost the opposite position on virtually every issue. In light of fears of Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon, Netanyahu accused the United States and the other nations engaged in the P5+1 talks in regards to the Nuclear program of giving the Islamic Republic a "freebie," in the first round of negotiations, and Defense Minister Ehud Barak saying Israel still might attack Iran despite negotiations. Peres on the other hand has adamantly stated that his firm belief that "Only America Can Manage the Iran Situation," and has spoken in praise of President Obama's Sanctions.

On the issue of the Arab Spring, Netanyahu has criticized the uprisings in Arab Countries as being "Islamic, anti-Western, anti-Liberal, anti-Israeli and undemocratic wave. Meanwhile, in an interactive interview on his Facebook page, Peres took a much more measured tone, saying that "[Israel] has to handle it with great care and consideration, with great restraints in our remarks," almost clearly alluding to the inflammatory statements by the head of government. In addition, Peres has stated he believed the Islamic parties will fade if they do not address the pressing economic issues of the youth in their countries.

Of course, perhaps the greatest diversion between the two men comes in their views towards Peace. Netanyahu has shown opposition to almost any concession of land as part of a peace deal-famously resigning from Ariel Sharon's coalition after the disengagement from Gaza and calling President Obama's 2011 plan "indefensible." As one of the Architects of the Declarations of Principles, Peres has conversely been an indefatigable advocate for Peace, urging Israel not to delay the Peace Process. In light of these differences, it is possible that President Obama's accolades to Peres was  a clear sign of that he is an ardent supporter of the Israel of Ben-Gurion, Rabin and Peres and not the vision of Netanyahu, Barak and Lieberman.

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