Shimon Peres entered the presidential residence Monday riding a wave of consensus. The humiliation of the Katsav affair managed to do what the guilt feelings regarding his past defeats did not. And what the Katsav affair didn't do, his ripe old age did: His age has turned into an advantage in the eyes of the public. Just like our forefathers, even modern-day Israelis have begun to believe that old-age is synonymous with wisdom (with one difference: The elderly at the time of our forefathers were 40 years old.)
Did I say consensus? On Sunday, radio stations were replete with rightists, supporters of Judea and Samaria who expressed their objection to Peres' election. They said they were willing to accept Peres as a president only if he expressed regret over the Oslo agreements.
Had I been one of Peres' advocates I would have been angry over the ingratitude. In many ways Peres is the founder of the settlement enterprise. Between 1974 and 1977, while he was serving as defense minister, he enlisted his ministry and the army in favor of settlements in the heart of Judea and Samaria and Gaza. Had it not been for him the settlements of Ofra, Ariel and Kdumim would not have been established. He laid the cornerstones. Ariel Sharon did the rest.
Before they lay the blame of Oslo on Peres they would do well to recall what the Oslo agreements gave them. Firstly, a massive settlement impetus, unknown until then, in the West Bank and bordering Jerusalem beginning with the strictly Orthodox town of Tel Zion near Ramallah, through to Givat Ze'ev to Ma'ale Edumim and Efrata, to the south of Bethlehem and up to the strictly Orthodox town of Beitar Elite.
Secondly, the Americans have increasingly turned a blind eye to all other settlements. Had the world not stood engrossed and teary-eyed on the White House lawn, the governments of Israel would not have been able to invest so heavily in expanding the settlements. Oslo gave them a great cover story.
Thirdly, following the Oslo agreements the governments headed by Rabin and Peres invested billions in paving bypass roads in the West Bank, designed solely for the settlers. The roads brought settlements closer to the Green Line more than any Yesha Council slogan ever did.
The Oslo agreement set off a failed process. At least that's the way it appears 14 years after it was signed. However, the cost of the failure was paid for by the two peoples, not by the settlement enterprise. Peres only built settlements, he did not evacuate them. The only person to evacuate settlers was Oslo's greatest enemy, Ariel Sharon.
Peres is endowed with many attributes. One of his weaknesses is his desire to satisfy his opponents' will. In this regard, as in others, he is unrelenting. He cannot sacrifice Oslo for their sakes, but he can placate them on other matters. Pardons, for example.
On Sunday an article by Reuven Rivlin, Peres' rival for the presidency, called for the pardon of disengagement offenders. Rivlin was referring to the youth who wildly protested the disengagement. He asked to annul their penalties as well as their criminal records.
His call was not directed at the president or the Knesset, but in the event that the Knesset will not be quick to comply, the question of clemency will be placed on the president's lap. This is not just about kindness and benevolence. It's about the lessons these youngsters and their friends will take with them to the next evacuation struggle, if there are any.
The settlers are not alone. The first request for clemency placed on the president's table is for former politician Naomi Blumenthal. The justice minister gave his recommendation, Peres only needs to approve it.
The only piece of advice we can give our new president is not to rush. This is the advantage of the presidency over the premiership. There's no hurry. Now's the time to digest the calls by well-wishers from abroad, the letters of appreciation and the invitations for state visits in Israel and abroad. Pardons can wait a while.