Two years ago, on the eve of the Knesset elections, Ehud Barak was among those considering setting up a new party including himself, Dan Meridor, Uzi Dayan, and a journalist friend. Barak was going to be second or third from the top of the list of candidates, just like Uzi's uncle, Moshe Dayan, who opted for the seventh spot on the Rafi list in the 1965 elections.
The idea was shelved in the end, and Uzi Dayan was left on his own. Contributing to the decision was Meridor's experience in the Center Party, and Barak's view that it is not appropriate for a former prime minister to be on a list of a small party. (The opinion polls also did not hint at any particular yearning for him.)
Barak, however, was recently overheard wondering aloud that had he joined Dayan, the two would have won at least three seats in the Knesset, and his influence in the political game - assuming that after the elections he would have rejoined Labor and won the first round of internal elections - would now have been entirely different.
This week Dayan emerged as Barak's most notable challenger outside the Knesset. Both served in the elite General Staff Reconnaissance Unit - the Sayeret Matkal - and rose up in the ranks to command it. Dayan has rallied veterans of the unit to demonstrate against Barak. Barak's concerns are only intensifying: His former brother-in-law and eternal friend, attorney Doron Cohen, another veteran of the Sayeret Matkal, called Dayan early yesterday morning in the hope of softening his criticism. Barak's weakness is his personality, which turns off voters.
Barak's lack of membership in the current Knesset, which disqualifies him from being prime minister, is the main element influencing his clumsy efforts to evade his commitment to work toward ending Ehud Olmert's government after the Winograd Committee's final report.
Following the Knesset elections, Barak's predecessor as Labor Party chief, Amir Peretz, was deterred from heading a Labor-Likud coalition government that would include other parties, with its chief goal to block Olmert. By this Peretz gave himself a no-confidence vote.
After the Winograd Committee's report, this Labor-Likud idea may enjoy a rebirth - substantive or tactical - as an incentive to Kadima to get rid of Olmert or risk being left out of government. But Barak's inability to immediately succeed Olmert is, apparently, an impassable obstacle. Barak's commitment was not conditioned on the content of the report, but to the date of its publication. Theoretically, the moment the committee investigating the Second Lebanon War officially stated that it would present its report on January 30, Barak must cease being defense minister on January 29 - unless Olmert's party, Kadima, chooses a different person to be prime minister.
A looser interpretation of his obligation to the public would permit a reading of the full text of the report, where there may be statements reversing the negative conclusions in last spring's interim report. This is not likely: It is sufficient to heed the statements being made by reliable sources in the committee. The condemnation of Olmert in the interim report will not suddenly turn into a medal. Ugly ducklings become swans only in fairy tales.
If the Winograd Committee, which is banned from passing recommendations on individuals, believes that Olmert should resign - which it did not state in the interim report, even though it claims it could have - then the committee has at least two ways to point this out. One is in the introduction, in commenting on its disappointment over its expectation that Olmert would resign after the interim report. The other is during the press briefing. If the result will be a headline ? "Winograd: Olmert must resign" ? it does not matter where it will stem from, the report or the briefing. This is how the Zeiler Committee acted in the case of former police chief Moshe Karadi.
And what about the premiership? Barak can find a loyal associate who has a realistic view of his political potential such as Benjamin (Fuad) Ben-Eliezer, who would be happy to serve as prime minister for Labor until the next elections, and leave for Barak the leadership and campaigning for then. There is a precedent for this, although with some differences: defense minister David Ben-Gurion and prime minister Moshe Sharett during the 1955 election year. As long as its not Olmert.
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