Barak Netanyahu Knesset 1109 Dan Keinan
Ehud Barak with Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset, September 2009. Photo by Dan Keinan
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The Labor Party's disintegration was an unavoidable consequence of the standstill in the peace process, which created a gap between the party's declared positions and the policies of the government it was partner to. Ehud Barak preferred the political association with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, even as a junior coalition partner, as long as he could have the defense portfolio.

By resigning with four stalwarts from the Knesset's Labor faction, Barak has preempted his rivals, who were striving to remove him from the cabinet or the party. Taking the initiative gives him a momentary tactical advantage. But it does not change the result - Israel is ruled today by an extreme rightist government that objects to any compromise in the peace process, is preoccupied with diplomatic holding operations against "the world" and passes its days oppressing the Arab community and persecuting human rights organizations.

Barak, who entered politics as a shining star, maneuvered himself into the position of collaborator with Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman and Interior Minister Eli Yishai. The new Atzmaut faction will be the government's resuscitation machine.

But the split in Labor, including the departure of eight Labor MKs from the coalition, holds a big opportunity for the left wing, which until yesterday was hardly represented in the Knesset. A bloc will now form around three banners - social justice, advancing peace and saving democracy. Such a bloc will provide an alternative to the ideology of hatred. Its very existence will force opposition party Kadima, too, to take a firmer position against Netanyahu and his government, and present an alternative to Netanyahu and Barak's policy of entrenchment and stagnation.

It's too early to predict how politics will crystalize before the next elections and whether Labor will survive in its current form or continue to split, with some of its members joining Kadima or Meretz. The only clear thing is that Barak's departure and the resignation from the government of ministers Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, Isaac Herzog and Avishay Braverman highlight the differences between Israel's two political wings. These differences have been blurred in the past two years, in the shadow of Labor's partnership in Netanyahu's coalition. Now, as Barak likes to say, the masks have been taken off.