Ehud Barak, Israel’s Depressing Only Hope for Peace

His predecessors and successors didn’t even try to make peace. He tried with Syria and was deterred; he tried to make peace with the Palestinians and burned down the house. But he tried.

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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IllustrationCredit: Amos Biderman
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

Excuse my lack of modesty for quoting myself, but this is what I wrote in 2004: “The fact that Ehud Barak is the only person who offers any kind of hope is depressing.”

Three years later I got even more carried away; “Only Barak,” I wrote. Four years later I changed my mind; I said he was more damaging than Avigdor Lieberman and more dangerous than Benjamin Netanyahu. Then about two years later I said he’d return to us in the middle of the winter, to the same path, the same deception, if only he were called to the flag.

Now the circle is closed and the glorious somersault has been completed. Once again I find myself writing – who’d believe it? – what I wrote a dozen years ago: Ehud Barak is the only hope, and that's depressing. The two parts of this sentence are as valid as ever – and what’s more depressing (and hopeful) than that?

Barak failed as a prime minister, served for only a short time, contributed to the destruction of the peace camp, spread the “no partner” lie, betrayed his friends and stoked the second intifada. And he’s not only a hope, he’s the only hope. The man who promised the dawn of a new day in the summer of 1999 and severed the hope once again looks like a hope.

More than the words reveal something about their writer, or about Barak, they reveal something about Israeli politics. In this country of dwarfs, Barak is a giant. In this country of petty tradesmen, between Katz (Yisrael) and Katz (Haim), he shines a bright light.

When the choice is between Benjamin Netanyahu and Yair Lapid, Barak is a hope, a hope now with a beard, but the only hope. That’s why he has to run, as the billboards are calling to him to do from every street corner, maybe put there by him.

His most recent media appearances, meticulous and shrouded in mystery, like a mythological figure rising from the depths, appearing and disappearing, are a voice from the past and a reminder of the present: where is he and where the others are. He introduces a new dimension; when he appears, the others shrink.

Imagine Lapid, say, like ex-children’s TV host Oded Menashe, trying to carry out fateful decisions. And now imagine Barak. All his sins, too numerous to count, will become white as snow compared to the other candidates.

Netanyahu and who opposing him? Isaac Herzog? He's a twitter commentator about traffic jams in Tel Aviv’s Ramat Hahayal neighborhood, and a sender of sympathy cards to countries hit by natural disasters. (“Consolation and embraces to the Italian people.”) Lapid? He's the organizer of pro-Zionism rallies in Stockholm’s Wallenberg Square, the one asking Israelis to sign foolish petitions telling the Czech president where Israel’s capital is.

Or maybe former army chief Gabi Asheknazi? Or Erel Margalit? Or Amir Peretz and Shelly Yacimovich, who should be respected but won’t be elected?

It’s possible Barak won’t be elected either. But unlike the others, his election would probably herald daring moves that none of the others would dare make.

That’s the secret of his strength. The man who understands that the abyss can’t be crossed with more than one courageous jump is likely to try to jump one more time, if only to leave an impression. He already tried once; it’s not clear what his motives were, but except for the dramatic withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000 the results were ruinous.

His predecessors and successors didn’t even try. He tried to make peace with Syria and was deterred; he tried to make peace with the Palestinians and burned down the house. But he tried. Maybe he’ll try again.

He is of course brilliant, arrogant, treacherous and cruel. He has no political allies left; maybe that’s to his credit. His path back, at age 74, looks impossible. But what looks even more impossible is a continuation of our depressing stagnation on the way to nowhere – or to disaster.

Yitzhak Rabin was a better prime minister during his second term, maybe the same would be true of Barak. Fifteen years elapsed between Rabin’s two terms; 15 years have elapsed since Barak’s first term. It’s time for him to return. He’s our only hope – and that’s depressing. There I go. I’ve written it again.

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