Shimon Peres: The photo-opportunity that never was

Jayasekera Notebook of Doom (pt.97) Shimon Peres – I shared a common interest in the politics of Middle Eastern water controls with a lovely colleague, the FT’s John Roberts, so the two of us cooked up a plan to bring a team of young Arab journalists to the Netherlands to report on a major UN conference on water rights there.

Peres was guest of honour, and for a day I was haunted by his impossibly glamorous aide, trying to get me to get our Arab colleagues to take part in a photo opportunity. I wouldn’t have it: it was all political grandstanding to him, but being seen to associate with Peres in the media would have been a career killer for them once home.

“Don’t these people want peace?” hissed the slinky diplo-babe. “’These people’, as you call them,” I snapped, “unlike your boss, don’t have the freedom to manage the politics they have to live with.” This was the time of the Israeli fetish for ‘normalisation’ – the propagandist idea that giving the appearance of progress would cover the actual lack of it.

But Peres was determined. Finally he, the diplo-babe and a photographer charged the press room, hoping to ambush an unwary Arab journo. No chance. The journos scattered like gazelles in front of a trio of advancing jackals. One Palestinian was a bit slow to his feet, so I stepped up in front smartish.

“Mr Peres,” I said, extending my hand. “What an honour”. Peres looked over my shoulder at his fleeing prey and sighed. “Thank you,” he said. And shook my hand. Nobody took our photo. The diplo-babe, flirty no more, gave me an icy stare.

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Shimon Peres in Jerusalem in 2013 / Photo US Department of Defense.
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