An April Fool's government
Without Barak, Netanyahu will not be able to carry out a military operation, but Barak will not be strong enough to prevent Netanyahu from freezing the diplomatic process.
Four politicians in Israel have returned to the prime minister's chair after losing it via resignation or defeat; Benjamin Netanyahu will be the fifth. David Ben-Gurion, Yitzhak Rabin, Yitzhak Shamir and Shimon Peres all regained the premiership after a respite. Yet none of them, not even Ben-Gurion (who resigned and formed his own party, Rafi, to run against his successor, Levi Eshkol) managed yet another comeback. If Netanyahu misses this opportunity, he will have no further resurrections.
This fear is a significant incentive as Netanyahu prepares to present his ministers to President Shimon Peres. The date this will occur is fitting - April 1 - either its eve or on the day itself. The day is marked around the world as April Fool's Day. "Fool" is an appropriate description for the voters, two-thirds of whom voted neither for Netanyahu nor Ehud Barak. Their parties together captured just one-third of the Knesset. The claim that Barak is flip-flopping is an insult to the institution of the flip-flop. And if Netanyahu wants to avoid failure, he will be forced to violate his voters' trust.
A few weeks after it bares its teeth to the cameras, the April Fool's government will lose its dearest member, incoming foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman. All that is left in the corruption investigation against him, which will result in a recommendation to prosecute, is that he give his version of events. The official summoning for questioning, which will happen after he is sworn in as minister, will mark the countdown to his forced resignation. The balance of power in the Netanyahu-Barak government will be unequal. Without Barak, Netanyahu will not be able to carry out a military operation, but Barak will not be strong enough to prevent Netanyahu from freezing the diplomatic process. The only one with enough power to do that is U.S. President Barack Obama.
Since 1960, every 16 years or so, a Democratic administration led by a relatively young president in his 40s (John F. Kennedy, Bill Clinton, Obama), or at most a little over 50, enters the White House ready to change the nature of relations with Israel. Kennedy clashed with Ben-Gurion over Dimona. Jimmy Carter and Clinton, who were surprised by the contacts held by Menachem Begin and Rabin with Egypt and the Palestine Liberation Organization, were called on to serve as mediators and bridesmaids. Even if Obama acknowledges that the Arab side is largely responsible for the predicament, he will not allow Netanyahu to stall.
One week ago, Netanyahu's national security adviser, Uzi Arad, returned from a short visit to Europe, where he took part in a multinational event that included Sweden's foreign minister Carl Bildt (who will soon hold the rotating presidency of the European Union), EU foreign affairs chief Javier Solana, and a number of U.S. senators.
What Arad heard from his interlocutors and reported to Netanyahu remains in confidence, yet other Israelis who were there heard identical messages from all directions: Netanyahu will be judged by his actions, not by his election campaign, and the world expects him to show diplomatic moderation. If Israel once again embarks on an expansive military operation against a terrorist organization or Iran, it cannot leave the task unfinished. It is insanity, said a sympathetic official from a hostile state, to pay full price for such a thin achievement. This after killing hundreds of civilians in Gaza, bearing the brunt of criticism that burgeoned into hatred, and leaving intact the Hamas regime.
If efforts to keep Iran from attaining nuclear weapons fail and Israel has to launch a military operation, it must destroy the nuclear program, not wound it. There is no underestimating the sense of urgency in Israel concerning Iran. There are doubts, however, about Israel's determination and persistence in implementing a policy over a period of time.
Iran's status as priority No. 1 in the eyes of the Netanyahu-Barak government, and the supreme imperative of all Israeli prime ministers "not to make life miserable for the president of the United States" make it easy to understand the need to cooperate with Obama on the Palestinians and Syrians. The regional traffic light is flashing in all directions. If Netanyahu dares give Obama the red light regarding Ramallah and Damascus, he cannot expect the president to turn off the red light leading to Tehran. And if he assumes that Bashar Assad and the Palestinian leaders will volunteer to be obstructionists, it will be clear that in Israel it is not just the voters who will emerge as fools.