The new-old observation that Defense Minister Ehud Barak is making - that Fatah and Hamas are two sides of the same coin - is reminiscent of something Yitzhak Shamir used to say: "The sea is the same sea, and the Arabs are the same Arabs." That diagnosis determined the fate, two decades ago, of the Jordanian option in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Shamir, who was then prime minister under a rotation arrangement with Shimon Peres, shook off the agreement of principles that Peres drew up with King Hussein in London for solving the problem of the territories. Labor bowed its head in acquiescence and stayed in the coalition government, violence in the territories mounted, and Jordan cut itself off from the West Bank.
Lo and behold, the tables have turned. Ehud Olmert, who backed Shamir, is now involved in talks with the Palestinian leadership, but the Labor chairman says there is no one to talk to on the Palestinian side. The Labor ministers are towing Barak's line and the MKs are muttering some feeble words about the party's commitment to peace. Does anyone really believe that the three large daily newspapers have conspired to undermine the defense minister? Could it be that a number of senior analysts failed to comprehend what Barak meant when he spoke (always in talks "behind closed doors"), describing the meetings between Olmert and the Palestinians as "souffle," as "air" or "atmosphere"? Can it be that everyone's understanding was "out of context" when Barak declared that we will not be rid of the Palestinians before we invent the necessary technology that "will protect Israeli citizens from missiles"?
It is hard to decide what is worse: when Labor ministers and MKs support Barak because they do not understand the damage he is causing, or when they back him in spite of the fact that they are aware of it. Either way, less than six months after the Winograd Committee concluded that every one of the ministers involved supported a massive military operation "without the requisite judgment, caution and responsibility" - that same bunch is reverting to the same behavior. As far as we know, no one in the Labor leadership asked Barak to present them with any type of intelligence assessment that confirms the claim that Fatah and Hamas are one. When they get a chance they should ask him how that fits in with the scorn that the Hamas leadership flings at the "traitor" Mahmoud Abbas, whom they accuse of planning to "realize the right of return by naming streets in Nablus and Hebron after Jaffa and Haifa."
Barak's cronies justify his rightward leaning as a tactic to draw supporters of Benjamin Netanyahu, who is ahead of him in the polls. Let us put aside for a moment the reasons for which they assume that persons who believe that "all the Arabs are the same" will prefer the imitation over the original. This would not be the first time when a political leader leaned to the right before the elections and the day after made a sharp turn to the left. Barak personally knows one of them very well. But under the current circumstances, when Hamas controls the Gaza Strip and it may take over the West Bank any day - such a spin game is like playing with fire.
Barak's statements and the silence of his colleagues in the party are not mere smoke on the water: Each word he utters - and every time they stutter - reality is not just being described, it is being affected. When the dwarfs of Labor allow their giant among strategists to sound like the leader of Likud, the Palestinians' conclusion is that "all the Jews are the same." As far as they are concerned, only the details and excuses have changed: Ariel Sharon demanded "seven days of calm," Netanyahu promised to stay in the territories at least until Iran gives up its nuclear program, and Barak proposes that we wait for five years until the Rafael armament authority completes its development of an anti-missile missile. By then, just as with Sharon and Netanyahu, "the negotiations" will serve as window dressing for roadblocks, outposts and closures.
When the second-most-important political party in Israel, the one that adopted partition as a solution, allows its leader to reject the Palestinian party that adopted this principle, what significance could talk of a "diplomatic horizon" have? What is the value of the international summit being planned by Ehud Olmert and Condoleezza Rice? Why should Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan swallow the made-in-Israel "souffle"?
So far, Barak has made do with the title of "the man who uncovered the true character of Yasser Arafat." No, Barak couldn't be trying to undermine the initial signs of a diplomatic process because he fears that someone else may succeed where he failed. Is it conceivable that leaders of the stature of Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, Isaac Herzog and Shalom Simhnon are supporting him in this?
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