Avi Gil, a former Israeli diplomat, has been by Shimon Peres’s side for 28 years. He was there when his boss orchestrated the Oslo Accords in secret, keeping the full scope of the negotiations with the Palestinians from his arch-rival, Yitzhak Rabin. He was there when Peres became acting prime minister after Rabin was assassinated, and there when, to the astonishment of most in the Israeli media and political class, he was ousted in the polls by Benjamin Netanyahu. Throughout all that, Gil scribbled silently in his diary, capturing bits and pieces of conversations and observations. He never shared them with anyone else. Until now.
His new book, The Peres Formula: From the Diary of a Confidant, draws on his real-time records of Israel’s recent history, and while Gil’s admiration for his long-time boss is evident, he took no special pains to canonize the statesman, who passed away in 2016. In a lengthy interview with Haaretz, Gil shared a few of the book’s more startling revelations. Here are the top three:
Peres Was Fond of “Locker Room Talk”
Peres, Gil wrote, would often disrupt deep conversations about philosophy and diplomacy to engage in raunchy banter. “Say, Avi, have you ever done it with a shiksa?” Gil would feign surprise, and Peres, he writes, would deliver a short monologue, always the same one, like something out of early day Phillip Roth: “Our Jewish women,” he’d say, “act like they’re doing you a favor. Like they’re suffering. Something always hurts them, bothers them. Shiksas, on the other hand, enjoy every minute. They have no complexes. They like to pamper you, and they put their all into the task.” Like clockwork, Gil would ask how Peres knew so much about the subject, and the statesman would smile coyly and reply, “friends told me.”
Peres and Rabin Really Did Loathe Each Other…
In July of 1994, in a suite at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C., Gil recalls, Rabin held court. He’d just returned from the meeting with Jordan’s King Hussein in the White House, where both announced that a peace treaty between the two nations is forthcoming. To a suite full of aides and journalists, Rabin, drinking wine, presented the achievement as his own, ignoring the fact that it was Peres who initiated the negotiations as well as composed what would eventually become the treaty itself. Sipping freely from his armagnac and eating Haagen Dazs ice cream, Peres sulked in a corner of the room, avoiding all contact with his nemesis.
… And the Animosity Drove Peres to the Brink of Madness
A few months before Rabin’s assassination, Gil writes, Peres was drinking cognac late one night and pouring his heart out to his trusted aide. They were talking about Rabin’s handling of the negotiations with the Palestinians. The prime minister, Peres said, “is scared. He’s indecisive. He never says a kind word to me. I treat him gracefully and ask for nothing for myself. I am entirely at peace with my actions. I wouldn’t mind dying tomorrow morning. I’m not afraid of death. It doesn’t impress me much. Rabin always gets all the credit. Next thing you know, he’ll claim it was him who built our nuclear reactor. He was afraid. All my life I’ve learned that the generals always peed in their pants, they are always so afraid. I’m an unusual politician. I have perfect integrity. I don’t mind dying tomorrow morning. I’m not afraid of death. Sometimes I wake up and feel sorry that I’m not dead. I’ve had enough. But there’s no one out there who could play my role.”
Liel Leibovitz is editor at large for Tablet Magazine and a host of its weekly culture podcast Unorthodox and daily Talmud podcast Take One. He is the editor of Zionism: The Tablet Guide.