Poor Man's Mofaz

No prime ministerial candidate has so much as mentioned a single idea, aside from battered recitations about the Iranian threat and the armament of Hezbollah and Hamas - but was it too much to expect something more of Barak?

If the Labor Party were to give its top slot to MK Orit Noked, for one, it's safe to presume it would win 13 seats; placing a horse at the head of its list might also bring the veteran party a similar level of support. In the elections for the 10th Knesset, in 1981, Labor won 47 seats. Shimon Peres, the party's chairman at the time, was called a "loser."

Polls now predict Labor will pull in about one-quarter of the seats it won then - a mere 13 - and chairman Ehud Barak is still considered his party's only possible candidate.

The commentators are quick to elucidate: Barak works alone, he has lousy interpersonal skills, he isn't nice, he erred when he forced a primary on Kadima, he erred when he attacked Tzipi Livni, he lives in the Akirov Towers and his wife started a PR firm that should never have been. Even if there is something to each of these arguments, Barak's freefall in the polls has one true explanation: There's no path, no alternative, no ideology, no promise and no vision - and please excuse me for using these archaic terms. Defense Minister Barak has proved this term that a person's stance depends on where he sits, as the American expression goes: The man who once came across as the boldest prime minister we have had, who pulled Israel out of Lebanon in one fell swoop and endeavored to resolve our most profound problems with the Palestinians, who nearly signed peace treaties with Syria and the Palestinians - and all in less than two years - suddenly turned out to be a conservative defense minister, a coward and a troublemaker, driven solely by his desire to survive politically and deprive his prime minister of any accomplishments.

Study Barak's actions again and again, and you will not find a single daring move, not one leap into the abyss, not one peek under stones - the ones that as prime minister, he had affected not to leave unturned in the cause of peace. True, Barak prevented a "major offensive" in Gaza; true, he led Israel to the truce with Hamas, though after a totally unnecessary delay. Beyond that - pure void.

When it comes to Israel's defense conduct under Barak, there is a sense of deja vu: threats, intimidation, use of excessive force, a cruel and pointless siege on Gaza, "no partner" and no promise of a different future.

The "dawn of a new day" became the twilight of an old day. In other words: Barak turned into the poor man's Shaul Mofaz - Benjamin Netanyahu with less-polished English.

He may have lost hope. If that is so, then he must step down from history's stage. Maintaining the occupation and day-to-day security operations doesn't require more than a bureaucrat or a mediocre general. Mofaz and Netanyahu can do just as good a job managing a policy of siege, assassinations, and checkpoints. When Barak looks back at his tenure in Israel's second-most important position, what will he see? What will he tell himself he achieved, tried, did?

That he hosted Salam Fayyad at his luxury apartment? That he attacked Livni, the only Kadima candidate who can prevent the rise of a right-wing government? That he even expedited Ehud Olmert's downfall and blocked Daniel Friedmann? These are trifles, relatively speaking. Barak sat in his cabinet seat as the representative of a party that is still considered a left-wing movement for some reason, and did everything the right would have done. For that we don't need him or his party. He could have - and should have - tried to bring change, and he betrayed his mission.

But here's a surprise: The constituency that voted for Labor is showing signs of changing. What works with the members of Kadima and Likud doesn't work with them. A vision of scare-tactics and intimidation, nothing but scare-tactics and intimidation, like the one Mofaz and Netanyahu spout, does not persuade Labor's voters. They want something else. Barak is not delivering it, and they are turning their backs on him in the polls.

These are very depressing times in Israeli politics. At a time when even the United States has a momentary promise of a new path, a presidential candidate who is troubled by his country's poor international standing and is looking for a way to improve it, Israel is preoccupied with Talansky and Tauros. True, none of the other prime ministerial candidates is any more promising than Barak. None has so much as mentioned a single idea, aside from battered recitations about the Iranian threat and the armament of Hezbollah and Hamas - but was it too much to expect something more of Barak?

True, it's not too late yet: Polls are just polls, and Barak has no party substitute at the moment. With a new adviser, and a new approach entailing much greater media exposure, it is time for Barak to say (and do) something we have not heard from all the others.