Defense Minister Ehud Barak is a brave man, not only in his operations from the days of the reconnaissance unit, or in his proposal at Camp David to divide Jerusalem. He is also brave in his willingness to stand apart from the choir and say unpopular things on days of terror attacks and mourning. A few hours after the funerals of the Fogel family from Itamar, on Sunday, Barak gave a lecture at the Institute for National Security Studies. He made do with short condolences, and went quickly on to his main point: a serious warning of a looming "political tsunami" Israel might face if it does not immediately initiate a plan to divide the country.
"Responsible behavior is needed even at the height of pain and anger," Barak said, detailing the dangers Israel faces if it keeps up the diplomatic freeze. The most prominent of these dangers is a deterioration in the essential relationship with the United States. He also warned against the efforts Israel's opponents are making to push it into the place once occupied by "the old South Africa," excluded and isolated. Barak called for an Israeli diplomatic initiative that would lead to a two-state solution while annexing the large settlement blocs and evacuating isolated settlements. Otherwise, he cautioned, Israel would be struck by a wave of international delegitimization that will cause it major economic damage, and might have to face an uprising in the territories.
Barak saved the brunt of his statements for his good friend, former subordinate and current political partner, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Without mentioning the prime minister's name or title, Barak described the dangerous weakness in leadership. He depicted Netanyahu as a non-leader, when he spoke of "inaction, paralysis, seeking with a delicate weather vane what the public on the right or the left wants to hear at the moment, and reciting those words."
Barak dismissed out of hand the prime minister's arguments and explanations that Israel had begged for negotiations but the Palestinians refused. He is only reciting words, Barak said. Over the past two years Israel has not agreed to discuss the core issues. It is hard to imagine a brighter red light, or a more reasoned criticism of Netanyahu by the man closest to him; the one who knows.
Barak is right when he says the current government is not suitable for the challenges Israel is facing. And yet, he insists on holding on to his chair and being used as scaffolding by Netanyahu, although that there is no value to his being part of the government. Even after hundreds of hours of private talks and meetings with limited numbers of participants, Netanyahu has not accepted one piece of advice from Barak. Neither on renewing talks with Syria, nor a diplomatic initiative vis-a-vis the Palestinians, nor another settlement freeze, nor a preemptive war against Iran, nor bringing Kadima into the government. Nothing.
Barak's effectiveness ended in November, when his proposal to extend the moratorium on construction in the settlements for nine months in exchange for political and security guarantees from Washington was rebuffed. Barak sold Netanyahu the deal he had made with the Obama administration, but the mood in the forum of seven senior ministers had changed, with Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya'alon leading the opposition and inclining the prime minister to his side. Ya'alon has since become Barak's most serious opponent, and his likely successor as defense minister if Barak leaves the government.
Since that time, Barak has been busy trying to survive. It is not easy. The political exercise of leaving Labor as part of the ghost party Independence destroyed him in public opinion. He got rid of the leftists in Labor who were making his life miserable, and now the right wing is calling for his dismissal. And Barak keeps on with his "wanting to exert an influence from the inside."
Even by his own method, MK Tzipi Livni (Kadima ) and "the man who whispers in her ear" - a clear allusion to Haim Ramon - can exert a greater impact than he can. And that is from the opposition ranks, with Ramon not even an MK. Now Barak wants them to join the coalition so he will not remain alone to face Netanyahu, Ya'alon and their friends on the right.
Instead of raising such empty initiatives, there is one thing Barak can do to save the country from the disaster he predicts: Leave the government with his four colleagues, join Livni in opposition, and from there, lead the fight against Netanyahu's diplomatic impasse. Barak's warnings are chilling, but if he stays in the Defense Ministry he will bear full responsibility for the disaster he warns against. The time has come for him to show his courage again.
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