And then it happened again. Moshe Dayan snatched the prize and became the Defense Minister, victor of the 1967 war and a world-wide hero. Peres remained a gray politician, a minor minister. The rock was down again.
For six glorious years, Dayan was the captain of the Ship of Fools, until the disaster of the Yom Kippur war. He and Golda Meir were wiped from the table and the country needed a new Prime Minister. Peres was the obvious candidate. But at the very last moment, practically out of nowhere, Yitzhak Rabin appeared and walked off with the prize. Peres had to satisfy himself with the Ministry of Defense.
He didn't. For the next three years, he devoted days and nights to an unceasing effort to undermine Rabin. The fight became notorious, and Rabin invented a title which stuck to Peres for many years: "tireless intriguer."
However, the effort bore fruit. Near the end of his term, Rabin faced a scandal: it appeared that after leaving office as ambassador to the USA, he had left open a bank account in Washington DC, contrary to Israeli law. He resigned in the middle of the 1977 election campaign, Peres took over. At long last, the way was open.
And then the incredible happened. After 44 consecutive years in power, before and after the founding of Israel, the Labor Party lost the election. Menachem Begin came to power. Responsibility fell on the party leader, Shimon Peres. Nobody blamed Rabin.
ON THE eve of the 1982 Lebanon war, Peres and Rabin went to see Prime Minister Begin and urged him to attack. This did not prevent Peres, two months later, appearing as the main speaker at the giant protest demonstration after the Sabra and Shatila massacre.
Begin abdicated and Yitzhak Shamir took his place. In the following election Peres at least achieved a draw. Shamir became prime minister again for two years, to be followed by Peres. During his two years as Prime Minister, he did nothing for peace. His main act was to persuade President Chaim Herzog to amnesty the chief of the Security Service and a group of his men who admitted to having murdered with their bare hands two young Arab prisoners who had hijacked a bus.
In 1992 it was Rabin again who led their party to power. He appointed Peres to the Foreign Ministry, presumably because he could not harm him there. However, things took another direction.
Yasser Arafat, with whom I had been in contact since 1974 and whom I met in besieged Beirut in 1982, decided to make peace with Israel. Behind the scenes, contact was established in Oslo. The result was the historic Oslo agreement.
Between Peres, his assistant Yossi Beilin and Rabin a competition for the credit started. Peres tried to appropriate all of it for himself. Beilin angrily resisted. But it was, of course, Rabin who took the fateful decision and paid the price.
First there was the Battle for the Nobel. The Oslo committee decided of course to bestow it on Arafat and Rabin (as it had done before to Sadat and Begin). Peres furiously demanded a share and mobilized half the political world. But if Peres got it, why not Mahmoud Abbas, who had signed together with him, and who had worked for years for Palestinian-Israeli peace?
Nothing doing. The price can go only to three people at most. Peres got it, Abbas did not.
THE OSLO agreement opened a new road for Israel. Peres started to talk (endlessly) about the New Middle East, and adopted it as his personal trade mark. He and Rabin had patched things up between them. And then disaster struck again.
A few minutes after standing next to Peres and singing a peace song at a mass demonstration in Tel Aviv, Rabin was assassinated. Peres himself had passed the murderer with his cocked pistol, who would not flatter him with a bullet.
That was the dramatic high point of Peres, and of Israel. The entire country was seething with anger. If Peres, the sole successor, had proclaimed immediate elections, he would have won by a landslide. The future of Israel would have been different.
But Peres did not want to win as the heir to Rabin. He desired to win on his own merits. So he postponed the elections, started another war in Lebanon which ended in disaster, caused another deadly terror campaign by ordering the assassination of a beloved Hamas leader -- and lost the elections.