Tons of paper and hours of airtime during the next Knesset elections were spared yesterday with a comment that took only seconds to make. The election platform of the Labor Party was tossed into the garbage pile with the announcement by Ehud Barak that he will not keep his promise to leave the government headed by Ehud Olmert by the time the Winograd Committee report is published. According to Barak's modus operandi, every item in the platform has limited viability. It may be valid for a time, but is subject to revocation if that is the decision of the leader - the expert in escaping the chains that confine him inside a locked box beneath the water, a la Houdini.
Barak's U-turn on a solid-white line leaves anyone who feels cheated with two problematic explanations. One is that already at the time when he made his promise, he was planning to shrug off the obligation to keep it. Such a plan is liable to turn that deed, designed to achieve an advantage in the internal Labor elections, into an example of the use of deceit to procure some end. The second possibility is that the highly intelligent Barak, the human computer, did not imagine that the situation would force him within just a few months to break his promise. In that case, a question mark hovers above his intellectual greatness. From now on, only a sucker will believe Barak, and in the absence of credibility, what advantage does he have over any other politician?
Barak has a well-known habit of entangling himself in promises with an expiration date. He not only promises; he promises to keep the promise by a certain date. In the 1999 elections he promised to withdraw the Israel Defense Forces from Lebanon within a year after forming his government. The specific date, the shackles he placed on himself, was July 7, 2000. His original intention was a withdrawal following an agreement with Syria, but as the date approached, the bargaining with Hafez Assad expired and the tension in the Palestinian arena increased.
The General Staff was concerned at one time about a genuine designated date, not an artificial one like that of Barak: September 2000, when Yasser Arafat was expected to open fire in order to spur Israel into concessions. The head of the IDF Operations Directorate at the time, Major General Giora Eiland, warned that the Palestinian calendar should be preferred to the Lebanese one, for fear that a unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon before exhausting the negotiations with Arafat would bring about an escalation in both arenas. Barak insisted: His word was sacred.
Seven years have passed, and Barak once again set a date for a unilateral withdrawal, this time from the Olmert government - by the date of publication of the final Winograd report. It turns out that he remained unbending in his promise, but yielding in its fulfillment. In his defense, Barak relied on the members of his faction in the Knesset and the government. That's a sad joke. Isaac Herzog and his "doubles" - Shalom Simhon and Benjamin Ben-Eliezer - want to be ministers forever, no matter who is prime minister. Olmert, Barak, Benjamin Netanyahu, Avigdor Lieberman, Arcadi Gaydamak - it makes no difference: They'll find a reason to remain implanted in their seats, erasing any difference between Labor and other parties. After all, they won't return to ruling the government: Although public opinion surveys have shown that the Labor Party is satisfied with seeking refuge under Olmert's wing, this narrow base is not enough to ensure a victory in elections, and a consistent majority in the public has called for Olmert's resignation and for the fulfillment of Barak's promise.
Barak's gamble will fail: The voters will find a way to bring Olmert to political judgment. Violating the promise has prevented a challenge to Olmert within Kadima. Last week initial contacts took place to form the "Gang of Four": Tzipi Livni, Shaul Mofaz, Avi Dichter and Meir Sheetrit, the Kadima ministers who were willing to confront Olmert and to demand that he ask for a renewed vote of confidence. The immediate significance of such a move would have been internal elections. Olmert's chances of winning, for the first time in his own right rather than as the incidental deputy of Ariel Sharon, were slim. The public does not want him. Kadima wants to live. But Barak prefers to come to the elections with Olmert rather than Livni at the head of Kadima. A political and personal consideration disguised as a statesmanlike decision.
As chief of staff Barak produced the "The Spirit of the IDF" document for the army - or, as it is popularly called, the "code of ethics." The entry entitled "Trustworthiness" states that the soldier is "ready at all times to present things as they are, in planning, executing and reporting truthfully, completely, courageously and honestly, and will behave in such a way that his peers and his commanders will be able to rely on him to carry out the missions."
Barak is no longer a soldier, and he is allowing himself to be untrustworthy. How will he look when he shows up at the General Staff and in the field and demands trustworthiness?
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