You wouldn't want to ride in a plane in which the pilot was drunk, or a delusional who couldn't tell the difference between up and down, enemies and friends, or right and wrong. But that was Israel's situation in 1993-1996. The "pilot" was mainly a triumvirate consisting of Yitzchak Rabin, Shimon Peres and Yossi Beilin. Although Rabin was in charge and fully responsible for his actions, he seems to have been persuaded to take the lurching, disastrous course by the other two, and he kept having doubts about it. Beilin was Peres' lieutenant, and the real "brains" behind the debacle was Peres; without him, it almost certainly would not have happened.

After Rabin was assassinated, Peres took full control of the plane and after a few months, during which terrorism reached new levels, he was defeated in elections by Binyamin Netanyahu. Peres faded off to develop his "peace center" and seemed to have been sidelined, though he wasn't in the least contrite.

But when Ehud Barak defeated Netanyahu in the 1999 elections, he brought Peres back, but only in the specially created role of "minister of regional development". Barak, of course, was a deranged helmsman in his own right, leading Israel straight into the worst terror onslaught it had ever known. Yet, it took Ariel Sharon, when he replaced Barak early in 2001, to bring back the original drunk pilot, Shimon Peres, in a starring role as foreign minister and second most prominent Israeli.

This time, Peres' tenure as copilot coincided with two years in which the carnage that got started under Barak turned into a maelstrom. It is hard to apportion blame, but Natan Sharanksy, who was a minister in that government, wrote in his book The Case for Democracy (with Ron Dermer, Public Affairs, 2004):
"Sharon cobbled together a national unity government and made Shimon Peres his foreign minister. Almost immediately, it became clear that there would be constant tension in the government. The sea change in Israeli public opinion... was not reflected inside Israel's parliament, and this was especially true inside Israel's Labor party. Most of the leading Labor ministers did not change their pro-Oslo views. They remained convinced that Arafat and the PA were the only alternatives and that nothing should be done to weaken them. Rather than meet the escalation of Palestinian terror with a firm response, they counseled restraint. According to the logic of their approach, the Palestinian terror attacks coupled with Israel's muted response was gaining Israel the sympathy of the world, and this sympathy could be used to pressure Arafat into taking action against the terror organizations. A strong response, it was thought, would create international sympathy for the Palestinians and put no diplomatic pressure on Arafat to crack down on terror."
It doesn't seem that Peres' presence helped much.

Then, early in 2003, the battered Israeli people at last had a chance to elect another Knesset. They gave Sharon's party, the Likud, 38 mandates, and Peres' party, Labor, 19, sending him and it, seemingly, to the political wilderness. But it took less than another year for Sharon to adopt Labor's platform, and only another year after that for him to bring Labor back into the government ­ including Peres in another specially created, but this time much more substantial, position as deputy prime minister.

Peres went back to doing what he does on auto-pilot if given a chance: treat Palestinians and Europeans as benign friends of Israel, and negotiate with them to take charge of Israel's security. At present, Peres is helping to work out a new deal whereby Europeans at the Gaza-Sinai border will "monitor" Palestinians, who will laugh as they admit a steady stream of terrorists into Gaza, beyond the many thousands who are already there.

For this passenger, it is the most difficult part of being on the Israeli plane: the eternally recurring, bland, sanguine face, with its slight mad glint, of the drunk pilot, who, every time you think you've finally banished him, is brought back to wreak new havoc.

It makes me want to order some drinks.