Barak's Last Chance

When he signed the coalition agreement with Kadima, the new Barak proved he was just like the old Barak - hearing but not listening, understanding but not internalizing.

It could be that all is really lost. Perhaps Ehud Barak will never be able to transform his personal merits into leadership qualities. Perhaps the Labor Party will not be able to turn its dim path into a distinct, clearcut ideology. Perhaps the defense minister and his party will continue to humiliate themselves to extinction, as they have been doing for the last two years and the past two weeks. Perhaps under the leadership of the man from Kibbutz Mishmar Hasharon, the historic Labor movement will dwindle into a tiny niche party comprised of elderly Ashkenazim.

It is possible that despite his good intentions, Ehud Barak will indeed be the undertaker bringing the Labor Party to its eternal rest.

It is highly likely that all is lost. When he signed the coalition agreement with Kadima, the new Barak proved he was just like the old Barak - hearing but not listening, understanding but not internalizing. Grasping complexities expertly but failing to stand on principles. Reading reality accurately, but not shaping it.

Labor, too, proved it has remained exactly the same - lacking in vision, direction, platform and spine. A party whose ministers are mostly armchair-bound political organisms. A party whose new message at the beginning of the new year was that all the ministers who served in the outgoing cabinet would serve again in the new one.

It is very probable that all is lost. Labor headed by Barak signed n agreement of unconditional surrender to Kadima on the eve of Sukkot.

It is an agreement that preserves the status quo. Thus Labor ensured Daniel Friedmann's continued term in office and the continued rule of Friedmanism. It ensured the continued term of the Olmert clique and the continued rule of diluted Olmertism. If the agreement is implemented, it will define the Livni-Barak government as a continuation government, rather than one of change. It would define Labor as a Kadima satellite rather than a party with an alternative point of view.

It is almost certain that all is lost. If Tzipi Livni knows how to get the better of Ehud Barak, then the public would prefer to go with the upper hand. If Labor drops every banner it hoists down to half-mast, there would be no reason to consider it a party of hope.

Moreover, voters could conclude that not only does Livni function better than Barak, but Benjamin Netanyahu does, too. Netanyahu has many faults, but he is putting together an impressive Likud team and is thoroughly reviewing economic and educational policies.

Livni, by virtue of her rationality and centrist stands and Netanyahu, by virtue of his abilities and ideas, are positioning themselves as future leaders.

Barak, in contrast, is missing one opportunity after another. He is abandoning his loyal supporters, serving his enemies and keeping his beliefs obscure. Nobody in Israel knows where Barak really wants to go or what vision of Israel he is striving toward.

And yet, all is not yet completely lost. The global crisis calls for renewing social democracy. Neither Netanyahu nor Livni is capable or willing to do this. The strategic threats call for formulating a new, comprehensive strategy for peace and security. No one is more suitable than Barak to deal with this.

Although Barak is trapped in a party that has lost its way and is meticulously making every possible political mistake, he is still the only candidate who can continue Ben-Gurion's legacy and renew his movement. If he comes to his senses, he could still be the one to generate change in Israel.

However, if Barak sits between Haim Ramon and Friedmann in Kadima's continuation cabinet, he will not be able to spearhead any social, economic or political causes.

The next few days therefore constitute the defense minister's last chance. The agreement is still only initialed and full of many holes. Barak still has time to help Livni to set up a solid government with a worthy agenda. Barak could still act within his own party to formulate another leadership and suggest another way, which would make Labor a different party.

Only if Barak does this will he finally realize his latent potential and prove that, despite it all, not all is lost.