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The Medal of Freedom ceremony for Shimon Peres was, mostly, about peace, with an emphasis on peace with the Palestinians.
Had Peres been awarded the medal ten or even five years ago, that would not have been newsworthy, but against a backdrop of a U.S.-Israel relationship now defined principally by Iran, it was.
Not just in the “spot” news that Peres made renewed talks the thrust of his address – the limits of influence of the Israeli presidency are well-known, at least among Israelis– but in that he was a recipient of the medal, now, against the backdrop of Iran.
It’s not a huge stretch to infer from President Obama’s decision to award Peres the medal – and in the way the night unfolded – that the U.S. president wanted to posit a different U.S.-Israel relationship, one of two nations engaged in end of war and not in its waging.
Such an enterprise, and with Peres at its center, necessarily would be suffused with nostalgia. It was Obama’s job, as host, to recognize the dignitaries in the room, and he did. Peres did not need to recognize anyone, so his mentions have significance: His family; Dalia Rabin, the daughter of his late partner; and Bill Clinton.
Each of those moments bore with it emotion – Clinton, I heard from another reporter, teared up when Peres thanked him for launching the Oslo peace process. (Clinton’s back was to me, so I couldn’t swear to this.). Recognizing Dalia Rabin, Peres extemporized from his prepared remarks, “for me [it] is a very moving presence.” Recognizing Clinton, he broke up a sentence to say: “Dear Bill.”
Peres, once upon a time, was reviled by his enemies as a manipulator, as ungenuine, and those with long enough memories (and gripes) might be attempted to write these moments off as stagecraft.
But there was a similar moment, a day earlier, which belied premeditation. Peres joined Hillary Rodham Clinton on Tuesday at an event organized by the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center. Moderating was the center’s director, Martin Indyk. The setting was the top floor of the Hay Adams hotel.
Peres was recalling the Oslo process, noting for his Washington audience that it was launched on the White House lawn, and Indyk interjected, pointing across the street below, “Right over there.”
Peres turned his head and interrupted his thought. The first thing that came out of his mouth was, “Clearly, we miss Rabin.”
It was the first time during the talk he mentioned Yitzhak Rabin.
Such moments defy manufacture.
Obama may have had an agenda in awarding Peres the medal; Peres, who is often mocked for his love affair with imagined futures, had his own agenda: remembrance.