This latest defeat for Israel's prophet is a setback for peace

A prophet is not without honour, save in his own country and his own house. One day, perhaps, Israel will make the concessions that Shimon Peres has tirelessly advocated to secure a lasting settlement with the Palestinians. But yesterday, after his unexpected, humiliating rejection by the Knesset as his country's new president, those words from St Matthew's Gospel sounded like history's judgement on the Israeli politician who was prepared to go further than any other for peace with the Arab world.

A prophet is not without honour, save in his own country and his own house. One day, perhaps, Israel will make the concessions that Shimon Peres has tirelessly advocated to secure a lasting settlement with the Palestinians. But yesterday, after his unexpected, humiliating rejection by the Knesset as his country's new president, those words from St Matthew's Gospel sounded like history's judgement on the Israeli politician who was prepared to go further than any other for peace with the Arab world.

Shimon Peres, it has been said, was born to suffer. He was the Labour party prime minister of Israel three times, but never following victory in his own right. Five times he failed to win an election, most recently in 1996 when he was narrowly defeated by the unlamented Benjamin Netanyahu. Many a time he has made a comeback, but this setback will surely prove terminal to a political career that predates the very existence of the state of Israel. Mr Peres is now 76. His conqueror was not a political lion like himself, but Moshe Katsav, a notably uncharismatic member of the opposition Likud party, and certainly no Chaim Herzog or Ezer Weizman.

The reasons for this personal disaster are complex. To a degree, undoubtedly, they lie in the treacherous eddies of Israeli politics, and the perceived shortcomings of a man who was never quite trusted by his countrymen, and who lacked the military credentials of the former and present Labour prime ministers, Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Barak. Many ordinary Israelis shared Mr Rabin's early judgement that he was an "indefatigable schemer". Mr Barak, too, was not much enamoured of him - making slightly less than convincing his own denial of charges that he did not privately urge his own supporters to use the secrecy of the ballot box to vote against Mr Peres.

If that were all, the downfall of Mr Peres would be merely another cautionary tale for ambitious politicians anywhere. But it is more; it is a depressing commentary on the prospects for peace after the collapse of the Camp David summit last week.

If elected president, Mr Peres would surely have used that largely ceremonial office to keep up the pressure for a settlement. His defeat, taken together with Mr Barak's narrow survival of a no-confidence motion yesterday, is a further sign of a hardening political consensus that the prime minister has been too generous with the Palestinians. Yesterday could prove a repudiation not just of Shimon Peres the man but of an unheeded prophet's entire vision of a "New Middle East".

Comments