Barak. When Ariel Sharon ran for the premiership against Ehud Barak in 2001, his friend and adviser Reuven Adler solved the problem of his skeletons in the closet. "Behave as if the Lebanon war never happened," he told Sharon, and instructed him to keep his mouth shut for the duration of the campaign. The tactic worked, and now Barak is using it for his campaign in the Labor primaries. We can surmise his advisers told him: "Act as if the Camp David Summit never happened," "forget the unilateral withdrawal from southern Lebanon," and most importantly, "say little."
More than any other Israeli politician, Barak is behaving like a stock market investor. He is looking forward, ignoring what he did and said in the past. Questions about decisions he made as prime minister tire him; he prefers to address the future. This approach has its advantages: Barak holds personal grudges less than others, and is capable of making fresh assessments, free of psychological fixations. This method has its disadvantages: Past declarations and actions tend to follow politicians, and anyone who tries to evade them comes off as inconsistent and an opportunist.
At the end of the day, history and the media are generally kind on leaders who change their views, like David Ben-Gurion in the reparations payments and the withdrawal from Sinai in 1956, Menachem Begin and Moshe Dayan in the peace agreement with Egypt, Yitzhak Rabin in Oslo, and Sharon in the disengagement. Golda Meir and Yitzhak Shamir, who survived longer than others in power, in retrospect appear stubborn, and as having missed opportunities.
What can we learn from this about Barak's future behavior, if he wins the primaries and joins the government as defense minister? His political interest requires him to break to the right, to end the memories of Camp David and to appear as the most security-minded of all Israel's leaders. It fits perfectly with the current warlike atmosphere in Israel, and Barak's campaign message stresses the candidate's martial experience. Amir Peretz kills the low-level members of Hamas in the Gaza Strip? Barak strikes much higher and further. Ehud Olmert bombed Beirut? Who knows where Barak can go? Anyone nostalgic for dividing Jerusalem and the Clinton plan will have to be very patient.
Peres. Every time Shimon Peres is about to run for a senior post, we hear him say, "What do I need this for?" But, as politicians say on television, "that is not the question" that comes to mind over his current candidacy for the presidency. The question is whether the country needs this, and the answer raises great doubts as to whether Peres can contribute more from the president's residence or from inside the government.
The Winograd report describes Peres as a rare voice of wisdom and judgment in the Olmert government, even when he is not fighting for his views. As vice premier, he insists on furthering projects like the Peace Valley in the Arava desert and looking for paths into the Arab world, even when many in the region think he is just fantasizing. It would be a pity to lock up his energies in the empty suit of the president. There is no doubt that Peres would be excellent at swearing in judges, receiving ambassadors and consoling the bereaved, but this can also be done by someone else. But in a government without Peres, who will ask the chief of staff about the wisdom of his operational plans on the eve of the invasion of the Gaza Strip, and who will dream about a Peace Valley?
Netanyahu. The Qassam barrages are making it easier for Olmert to keep Labor in his government and fend off the threats of disposal or early elections. After the Labor primaries are over, Olmert will push on to the next objective: Benjamin Netanyahu. If he succeeds in putting together a dream team, with Barak in defense and Netanyahu in finance, Olmert will instantaneously be transformed from a loser in the polls to the national unifier. We can imagine his victory journey to Washington, bolstered by two former prime ministers and a huge Knesset majority, where he will discuss confronting Iran with George Bush.
Olmert's interest is obvious. Without Likud in the government, he will be a hostage of the Labor defense minister. Partnering with Likud will allow Olmert to divide and conquer. And what will Netanyahu get out of this? If Netanyahu feels that the elections are moving further away while the centrifuges at Natanz are swirling away, he may be tempted with a senior position in a government that will deal with Iran, instead of languishing in the opposition.
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