Barak's Talk Is Right, but His Actions Are Wrong

By continuing to serve under Netanyahu, Barak is supporting a policy that he himself believes is devastating for Israel's future.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak has been warning that a "diplomatic tsunami" threatens Israel, in the form of sweeping international recognition of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders. In his speech on Sunday at the Institute for National Security Studies, Barak also warned of a sweeping delegitimization campaign aimed at "pushing Israel into the corner from which the old South Africa's deterioration began."

Barak offered a proposal for how to deflect this threatening wave. He called for negotiating with the Palestinians on all the core issues, with the goal of reaching an agreement to divide the land in the spirit of the Clinton plan - an agreement that would establish a viable Palestinian state while gradually evacuating all the settlements left outside Israel's permanent borders. "Anything else will deepen Israel's isolation and endanger its strength," he warned.

Barak was not deterred from saying this despite the shadow of the brutal murder at Itamar and the aggressive responses of his political partners on the right. In his speech, he leveled harsh criticism at "the inaction, the paralysis, the search with a fine-toothed comb for what the rightist or leftist public wants to hear at any given moment, followed by its utterance." It was clear to his listeners that he was speaking about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has avoided making decisions and instead played for time.

Barak is right. If Israel wants to survive, to be rescued from the trap of international isolation, it must get out of the territories and hand them over to a Palestinian state. Netanyahu would have done better had he listened to his defense minister instead of to the heads of the Yesha Council of settlers.

But even though Barak's situation assessment is right, what he is actually doing about it is wrong. Barak insists that he must "try to exert influence from within," even after two years in which Netanyahu ignored his advice and his positions and the government only pulled further rightward. And his words seem particularly disconnected from reality after he lent his hand to the decision to build hundreds of new housing units in the settlements in response to the attack in Itamar.

Barak claims that his own faction lacks the necessary political power to effect change, and therefore, Kadima should join the government. That is how he pays lip service to his duty - by passing the buck to opposition leader Tzipi Livni. But in reality, by continuing to serve under Netanyahu, Barak is supporting a policy that he himself believes is devastating for Israel's future.