Comeback - Take Two

Ehud Barak stands a head taller than all his rivals. This short man is the only politician in the Labor Party graced with leadership stature. He is intelligent, brave and has the rare ability to look history squarely in the eye. He is focused, energetic and resourceful and thus can be incredibly effective. It's no coincidence that in the course of one year in power, Barak managed not only to get Israel out of Lebanon but also to bring the peace process to its moment of truth. For his actions during that year he is certainly deserving of a medal of honor. For his actions during that year he is also deserving of the Israel Prize for his life's work. But does Barak deserve to be prime minister again? When the Sharon era ends, should Israel's fate once again be placed in the hands of this meteoric man?

Barak's grab for the microphone this week at the meeting of the Labor Party Central Committee raises serious doubts. On the face of it, it was a thuggish act. An act that trampled norms and disrupted proper procedures. Even if Barak thought (rightly) that his rivals had set a trap for him, there was no justification for the way in which he tried to evade the trap. Even if Barak thought (rightly) that he was being mistreated, there was no justification for the way in which he tried to remedy the mistreatment. Barak's grabbing of the microphone showed him to be someone who doesn't know how to lose. Someone who isn't willing to bow before a political process that is turning against him. And it showed Barak to be a problematic fighter with a very short fuse. A boxer who easily loses his balance.

Ehud Barak is blessed with a wonderful ability to portray his failures as successes. To explain his mistakes as brilliant ideas. Moments after committing some minor faux pas, Barak is ready with a whole, long sophisticated argument that proves that his little stumble was actually a stroke of genius. But this time, Barak ought to dispense with the elaborate argumentation. He should look himself squarely in the eye and realize that he did himself enormous damage. He must understand that in ascending the podium and forcefully grabbing the microphone from Moshe Shahal, he only proved to many people that their suspicion about him was justified. That for Ehud Barak, the end justifies the means.

Thus, the coming weeks may well determine the former prime minister's political future. The microphone fiasco could turn his faltering comeback into a genuine swan song. The midgets of the Labor Party will try to exploit Barak's weakness in order to dig his political grave. And they may succeed. They could do to Barak what Sharon did to Tommy Lapid this week.

So if Ehud Barak wants to stay alive, if he wants to take his place among the national leadership once again, he'll have to start his comeback anew. He'll have to lay to rest the doubts aroused by his actions. Barak will have to prove that he's a democratic leader, not a microphone bully. He'll have to show that he's not a bold tyrant but a team player who can work harmoniously with both colleagues and rivals.

There is only one way to do this: to join the government and help see the disengagement through. If Barak wants to be number one again, he'll first have to show that he is able to be number two. Or three. Or even four. He'll have to show that he isn't just determined to promote himself but that he can also be a part of the group that is going to put a fateful national undertaking into effect. If Barak replaces his strategy of waging war on Peres and Sharon with a strategy of cooperation with them, he will earn great esteem. Just as Yossi Beilin is doing these days.

If he does that, Barak will gradually be able to erase the appalling spectacle he seared into Israeli public consciousness this week. If he does that, Barak will find a suitable outlet for all his impressive qualities. If Ehud Barak can prove that he has learned how to be a mensch, he has a good chance of being a leader again. Maybe even a worthy leader. Maybe even prime minister.