An ordinary person might wonder what would motivate a successful person like Ehud Barak to want to return to political life. After all, he had his fill of the pleasures of government and suffered from its bitterness, tried his hand as premier and got out by the skin of his teeth, and found himself a channel of operation in the private sector from which he gained a great deal of satisfaction. Yet he longs to return to the stake at which Amir Peretz is now burning. Only Barak knows why he so ardently desires to be at the forefront of the conflict with the Palestinians and to take responsibility for the grave dangers lying in wait from Syria, Hezbollah and Iran. Only he understands the meaning of the urge to once again put his hand in the snake pit of Israeli politics.
Barak's desire to take part again in piloting the state is his own private affair. The public has a right to know only his path: how he plans to deal with the security and diplomatic entanglements in which Israel is presently enmeshed, what ingenious solutions he has in the face of Khaled Meshal's Qassams, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad's centrifuges, Bashar Assad's missiles and Hassan Nasrallah's plots.
This expectation is not unrealistic. It is justified to demand from an individual on the verge of receiving the defense portfolio that he present to the public his diplomatic and security platform. The experience of the past six months has painfully illustrated how essential it is to meet this demand.
There are two main approaches to the conflict with the Palestinians (which determines Israel's situation on the other fronts): One is to see the situation as insoluble and deal with it on the basis of wise day-to-day management. The second is to seek an end to it.
Barak is being asked to reveal his agenda: Does he believe in attaining a permanent solution, or that we must make do with ongoing management of the conflict? When he was prime minister six years ago, he studied the possibility of reaching an arrangement that would put an end to the conflict, and he ended by concluding there was no one to talk to. The public has a right to know if he still holds this opinion, and what the implications would be on how he now sees the job of defense minister.
Ostensibly, Barak is a fitting candidate to manage the entire defense establishment in general, and the Palestinian conflict in particular. He is experienced, authoritative and very familiar with the arena of Israel's security affairs.
If the government intends to seek a solution to the ongoing security difficulties, Barak is inestimably more suited than Amir Peretz to head this effort. But is he the most suitable candidate among the senior figures in the Labor Party if the goal of the party for itself is to move the government toward an end of the conflict with the Palestinians?
Barak carries the residue of the failure of Camp David and he might try to fulfill, for the second time, his own prophesy ("there is no partner"). Moreover, among the competitors for the job in Labor are those (Ami Ayalon, for example) whose basic positions promise a greater chance of reaching a final agreement with the Palestinians.
It is possible, of course, to argue that in the state's present situation, seeking a permanent solution is a wild delusion and what is needed is, in fact, a good manager for the defense establishment. That, perhaps, is a practical approach. But it has a built-in failure: It blocks from the outset any possibility of reaching a breakthrough in the conflict, since it assumes there is no possibility for one. When an individual stands at the top of the security pyramid who believes that his function is limited to lowering the flames and not getting rid of the fuel tank that feeds them, he might tend to ignore that tank. In any case, if Barak is competing for the defense portfolio, he must first present his diplomatic-security credo.
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