Barak vs. the Left

The left is undermining the government's diplomatic policies, when it - of all movements - should be supportive, claims the Labor Party chairman.

On Monday, in his routine opening monologue at the Labor faction meeting, party chairman Ehud Barak said, among other things: "Some on the left are raising questions, and instead of encouraging the parties to begin negotiations, they are reinforcing the doubts and the skepticism, both among us and on the other side."

Barak accused the left-wing parties of throwing a monkey-wrench into the diplomatic wheel, and declared that he expects them to show more responsibility.

"He almost accused the left of treason," said one member of the faction. "The impression was that as far as he's concerned, anyone who speaks out against him should be arrested, and the Haaretz editorials have to be blotted out. As if he had no understanding of the meaning of democracy, of freedom of expression."

Later, in a private conversation in his Knesset office, Barak agreed to spell things out. He said he understood the right's demonstrations against a government that supports the two-state solution and freezes construction in the settlements. But surprisingly, he continued, something else is happening: Groups on the left, which have devoted their entire lives to making peace, are behaving as though the possibility of negotiations is a threat rather than an opportunity. They are making things harder and warning of conspiracies, instead of encouraging negotiations to begin.

Barak's interlocutor immediately thought this could be a reference to former Meretz chairman Yossi Beilin. Barak neither denied nor confirmed that. Beilin, who has been in business rather than politics for quite a while, still has a network of acquaintances and connections that any foreign minister would envy. He revealed the settlement freeze plan a week before the prime minister did, and in a speech before the Meretz leadership, he also revealed what Netanyahu is willing to discuss with the Palestinians. Beilin also said from the outset that the freeze decided on by Israel and the United States would not bring the Palestinians to the table. So far he's been right.

Barak describes the behavior of those groups as "human weakness." Why aren't they encouraging, strengthening and supporting a government that is following their path, our path, he complained. After all, they want us to negotiate. I expect them to support Bibi, to tell the Palestinians to go sit with him. Instead they're saying: Don't believe him.

After 10 months of working together, Barak still believes in Netanyahu. Apparently he even likes him, as far as Barak is capable of such a thing.

There is something messianic about the left, Barak added. In the past 20 years it has been proven that their path has "won"; after all, in recent years the prime ministers have more or less adopted it. And instead of exhibiting self-confidence, he said, the leftists are saying: If the prime ministers and we are all thinking the same thing - then something is wrong with us.

Yossi Beilin was in Frankfurt this week. I asked him why Barak thinks he is torpedoing negotiations with the Palestinians.

"I'm in favor of negotiations, and I think that the Palestinians and [PA President] Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas] - in spite of the fact that they're facing Netanyahu and [Foreign Minister Avigdor] Lieberman - have to come to the negotiating table, because there's no better alternative," said Beilin. "But I thought that the entire maneuver of postponing construction was absurd and pathetic. Because temporary and partial postponement, with an 'exceptions committee' - who in the world will buy that?"

What do you think Barak wants from you, I asked him. "I like him, admire him, but I don't understand him," Beilin answered.

Sara, Sara, Sara

The most surprising thing about the Sara Netanyahu-Lillian Peretz affair is the silence of the opposition. After all, when former prime minister Ehud Olmert was investigated about his affairs, the opposition (Likud) claimed he couldn't function if he was preoccupied with interrogations.

There are several possible reasons for the current silence: The MKs don't want to be caught in the crossfire between the tabloids Yedioth Ahronoth, Maariv and Israel Hayom. Or they think that there's no story here. Or they don't want to play into the hands of Netanyahu and his people, who are only waiting for the moment that some politician, preferably from Kadima, jumps on the bandwagon so that they can shout that it's all politics. But in this case so far, there is no evidence that Netanyahu's political rivals are involved in the whole affair.

Two weeks have passed since the housekeeper filed her lawsuit, and it seems the media have not discussed anything else but the Netanyahu family's dirty laundry. Another reason for this may be that there is no "real news" - no diplomatic movement. Barak goes to Egypt and comes back empty-handed. The negotiations over kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit are stagnating. The battle against Iranian nukes is taking place on another court, that of the United States and Europe.

Three weeks ago the government ministers discussed the Hebrew language for two and a half hours. Here and there was some talk of the separation fence, the foreign workers and the upcoming meeting with Angela Merkel and her government. This week, almost the entire cabinet was traveling to commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Luckily, at the beginning of next week, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi will be coming here, and there will be something to talk about.

Mofaz's crucial moment

Kadima MK Shaul Mofaz already realizes that his party's primaries will not be moved up to this summer as he is demanding, or even to the end of 2010. Kadima chairwoman Tzipi Livni and MK Tzachi Hanegbi reject these suggestions, as does MK Haim Ramon. Mofaz is thus approaching his moment of truth: to accept things and wait in Kadima for better days, or to consider resignation, whether from politics altogether, or with others in order to join Netanyahu's coalition.

Kadima members say that if Mofaz has truly given up his ambition to become prime minister, he is more likely to leave Kadima. The latest assessments are that if he enters the coalition with about 10 MKs, Netanyahu will give him the finance portfolio, and Yuval Steinitz will move to the Justice Ministry, in place of Yaakov Neeman, who has twice expressed his desire to resign. No one has confirmed this assumption. On the other hand, if Mofaz is still trying to become prime minister, he has to understand that he has no other way to get there, except by defeating Livni and running as Kadima's candidate.

Mofaz has made quite a few mistakes in his not-very-long political career - his biggest being leaving Likud at the height of the battle over the party leadership. But he still has a certain status among the public, which remembers him as a professional defense minister. Memories of those days are now critical for him.