Politics is the art of the long-distance runner. One of the few to know that was Ariel Sharon. When his wife died he thought about retiring from politics, but he was not a man to quit. In the ensuing years, he managed to oust Ehud Barak from the prime minister's seat, block Netanyahu's return to the helm of Likud and - most importantly - drop the disengagement bomb.
The man who took Likud apart while scrapping the "Greater Land of Israel" dream founded Kadima, the only new "secular" party since Democratic Movement for Change (1977) to cross the 15-Knesset-seat threshold. To sum up, he smote Bibi [Netanyahu], Barak and the left wing.
Of all our leaders, only David Ben-Gurion, Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Shamir, Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres were intimately familiar with this art. It consists of long-term tactics, iron patience and - most importantly - choosing the right timing for the right move.
From their first day in power, Bibi and Barak have been particularly preoccupied with themselves. But Bibi is more successful than Barak and has taken the lead in the hidden race between them. Bibi catapulted a little party from 12 Knesset seats to 27 in the recent elections, while Barak - full of his achievements as a genius, pianist and watchmaker - brought Labor down to 13 Knesset seats, from the 19 seats secured by Amram Mitzna and Amir Peretz.
One could have expected Barak and Tzipi Livni to join forces in a strong opposition against the right-wing, narrow "Biberman" government. Instead, Barak is preparing to join this government as a small tail; rumor even has it that if Labor doesn't agree, he will leave the party and take up the post of defense minister in Bibi's government. Only after allowing the rumor to circulate did Barak announce that his "quitting the party is not on the agenda at the moment." What does "at the moment" mean? Right now it's not on the agenda, but in the next moment it could be?
Barak compares himself to Moshe Dayan, who joined Begin's government. But the difference is that Dayan no longer belonged to Labor and felt he had a personal obligation to amend for his failure in the Yom Kippur War by making peace with Egypt. Although he had only one eye, he was one of the only leaders adept in the principle of long-distance vision.
If Barak joins Bibi's government as defense minister, in the process splitting or rupturing Labor, he will become a professional minister, an under-minister or a senior Bibi official, not to say a mercenary. Since his unsuccessful term as prime minister, I have not heard as many denunciations of his conduct as right now. Usually, says the Laborite, Barak thinks he's God's gift to the human race. When he's having a modesty attack he sees himself as Ben-Gurion. Barak was a brave combatant, but some may dispute his phenomenal image as defense minister.
In fact, the slapdash Second Lebanon War, with a faltering army, achieved more than Operation Cast Lead, because it ended with a UN-sponsored peace agreement, while the campaign against Hamas in Gaza, which dragged on unnecessarily, brought the whole world's wrath on us. And the Qassam fire has not ceased.
Has Bibi really changed? In a way the answer is "yes." He has learned from his political mistakes and stopped his public incitement. Even his wife Sara is not by his side all the time, although those in the know say she still wields a strong influence over him. His external demeanor has also changed. No more king of Israel, no more Bibi-Bibi-Bibi.
But his basic policy remains the same. This is not the man to continue Sharon's path and lead Israel to fixed borders, with the concessions involved - although he is trying his best to appear to aspire for peace. It was wise of him to choose Barak's Labor as an alibi, but it would be foolish of Labor to serve as a smoke screen to obscure the Bibi-Lieberman government's message to the world.
Barak is responsible for the greatest defeat in Labor's history. Livni, by comparison, is acting as the head of the party that received the most votes and is therefore an alternative to Bibi's government. She is not looking for jobs, but for a way to make peace.
Her resistance to the temptation of joining a so-called emergency government is not only right, but trustworthy, too. Unlike Barak, who declared pompously that the voter had his say by sending his party to the opposition and he was staying to rehabilitate it. At the same time as he was reciting this noble motto, he and Bibi secretly met and concocted a deal. Today we shall see if Labor gives in to Barak's flip-flop and liquidates itself.
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