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Israel's New President Shimon Peres Pledges To Work For Unity Of All Israelis

The Ninth State President Was Born In Poland In 1923 & Arrived In Israel At The Age Of Eleven

IsraCast: President Peres Will Play A Greater Political Role Than Any Of His Predecessors Possibly Challenging Prime Minister Of The Day

President Shimon Peres (Photo: Amit Shabi)

Israel's parliament, the Knesset has sworn in Shimon Peres as new state president. In his address, Peres declared that he would work to unify all the Israeli people in its quest for peace. Although the position of state president is mainly ceremonial without executive power, IsraCast believes all the indications are that Peres will play a more active political role than any of his predecessors - possibly stepping on the prime minister's toes. Peres himself never won an election for premiership although he served twice in the position and even initiated the Oslo process with the Palestinians.

'Peres lasts longer' - like a Duracell battery! That was an advertising exercise designed by a student at the Aboodi Creative School in Tel Aviv recently. The student got top marks and so does the energetic Shimon Peres who at age 84 becomes the new President of the State of Israel.

President Shimon Peres (Photo: Amit Shabi)

Most Israelis have breathed a collective sign of relief now that Shimon Peres has been installed in office. Granted the position is mainly ceremonial with little executive power, but the state president is still 'Citizen #1' in the eyes of the Israeli public. Shimon Peres is a shot in the arm for Israel's morale at this juncture and on several counts. He is viewed as a worthy candidate with a wealth of experience and political wisdom dating back decades to the days of grandeur under his mentor David Ben-Gurion. At present, the Jewish state is still under the cloud of the Second Lebanon War that shattered much of the ethos about Israel's invincibility. Peres helps fill the void that yearns for the leadership of the past that was missing during the conflict of last summer. This, despite the fact that Peres revealed to the Winograd enquiry: ' I would not have gone to that war ' although he had backed Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in the cabinet decision. But for a majority of Israelis, Peres is still the 'Last of the Mohicans' the only active politician who is a link not only with Ben-Gurion but with Moshe Dayan, Golda Meir, Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Rabin and Ariel Sharon in the pantheon of former leaders.

Abroad, Peres is recognized as an international leader with a vast scope of history who enjoys great prestige as a Nobel Peace Prize laureate. Among the deluge of congratulations streaming to the president's mansion in Jerusalem was a warm message from Pope Benedict urging him to continue his peace efforts. There is no question that President Peres's political comments will have a greater impact than perhaps any other Israeli personality in the international arena. At home the man, who never succeeded in being elected prime minister, also enjoys greater popularity than any other politician. Obviously this was not always the case. Peres could be compared to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev who was lauded abroad for his progressive policy of glastnost but condemned at home. Peres has often been initiator and driving force behind major moves in Israel; from the Dimona nuclear reactor, French arms supplies to the Oslo process with the Palestinians, today a bitter bone of contention. Like Gorbachev, Peres was at times too far ahead of the national consensus and ended up alone and paying the political price for his ' New Middle East ' that didn't pan out. For Peres is an original thinker - a 'think big' personality if there ever was one with the ability to translate his ideas into action.

Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Shamir

Personally, I recall a press briefing with Peres the first time he came prime minister in the tie with the Likud Yitzhak Shamir. Peres praised Egyptian President Anwar Sadat to the sky calling him a magnificent world leader who had changed the course of history by agreeing to make peace with Israel. Indeed, Menachem Begin also deserved credit but there was no question that Peres appeared to envy Sadat as a trail blazer who he would like to emulate.

As for the Arab world, the red carpet will be rolled out for President Peres. He can be counted upon to chalk up thousands of miles in the skies in visits near and far to new destinations. There is no question that President Peres is just what the doctor ordered in presenting Israel's case convincingly. But an Israeli president is expected to steer clear of current politics, that's the prime minister's prerogative. During the presidential election campaign, Peres signaled that he would not poke his nose into the PM's bailiwick. But 'it's not done' has never stopped Peres in the past- Yitzhak Rabin testified to that. So at age 84 is the new president past his prime and ready for the ceremonial role that his predecessors have nearly always followed? ( Ezer Weizmann got in hot water once with Prime Minister Rabin when he suggested a time - out in peace contacts with Yasser Arafat due to the bloody suicide bombings).Make no mistake, Peres is as sharp as ever. At a recent meeting with reporters, the president fielded provocative questions with ease- he relished the give and take with quick comebacks tempered with humor.

Is it reasonable to assume that Peres with his prodigious political proposals will remain indifferent if he feels the prime minister of the day is missing potential peace opportunities? On the contrary, Peres can be counted on to make his views known now that he is president.

On the other hand, the president is privy to confidential intelligence information as well as one -on- one periodic briefings with the prime minister. Therefore, Peres could serve as an invaluable advisor to the PM, he certainly has more experience than anyone else around.

In addition, to these aspects of the Peres presidency, there is another reason to take heart. His installment helps end the nightmare of his predecessor Moshe Katzav, on his way to being convicted a sex felon, if not worse. The Katzav scandal has weighed heavily on public morale - the country can now take heart that an honorable and respected man now occupies the President's Mansion.

David Essing

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