Wanted: A Peace-seeking Leader

Something important can be learned from the interview with Ehud Barak published last week in the New York Review of Books about the outcome of the former prime minister's political steps.

Something important can be learned from the interview with Ehud Barak published last week in the New York Review of Books about the outcome of the former prime minister's political steps. Barak's demurrer over the manner in which the publication put across his comments does not succeed in distracting one from the facts: The quotes reveal the previous premier's mental attitude toward the Arab world as a whole, and the Palestinian people in particular. A man whose outlook is composed of such principles from the outset would not have been able to reach a peace agreement, not with Yasser Arafat, and not with Hafez Assad.

With hindsight, it is suspected that Barak's moves were deliberate, even if he was not consciously aware of this, to prove his doctrine that all Arabs, wherever they are, live a culture of lies, while the Palestinians simply want to destroy Israel.

Israel's current leaders have an opinion of the Arabs and the Palestinians that is not too dissimilar from that of Ehud Barak's. Like him, they, too, have dismissed the peace plan put forward by Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, and like him, they do not believe that the Palestinians are prepared to live in peace alongside Israel.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has even been characterized as someone who believes that force is the most effective way to propel the Palestinians into reaching an agreement. Until now, his term in office has been a self-fulling prophecy: his basic, pessimistic and suspicious prognosis of the Palestinians' intention has given birth to his political and defense attitude, which in turn creates, or at least contributes to, developing a reality in which the confrontation perpetually escalates.

With such a psychological climate, there is no chance of an agreement - and all this without even a passing mention of the possibility that Sharon is motivated by a hidden agenda that openly seeks to eternalize Israel's hold over the territories.

The responsibility for altering the mind-set and behavioral patterns of the country's leadership falls on the shoulders of the heads of the Labor Party: Benjamin Ben-Eliezer and his colleagues have the power to shake up the decision-makers and force them to confront new ideas and a different approach.

And they seem to have the precise tools needed for such a task: Ben-Eliezer has composed a peace plan which sees the Clinton and Camp David proposals as the formula for bringing the conflict to an end. The Labor Party has effective leverage in the current composition of the coalition (whether Shas comes back to the government or remains in the opposition). A more than marginal part of the population see the outbreak of violence by the Palestinians as proof of their national plight, which can be abated by meeting their expectations of an end to the occupation. These people are crying out for a leader that can head a serious political force that will march under this banner (against another, no less significant part of the population, who views the events since September 2000 as an expression of Palestinian treachery and their plotting to wipe out Israel).

It is disappointing to realize that Ben-Eliezer, who has the panache to run the country, does not translate the plan he presented to Labor's Central Committee into the language of concrete, political action. Instead, he continues to lend a hand to Sharon's actions, becoming increasingly entangled in contradictory policies that show both him and his party in a ridiculous light, and did so more than once.

Undoubtably, if, for example, Yossi Beilin today stood at Labor's helm, the party would be significantly influenced by his political temperment and basic outlook on the significance of the conflict. Under the current circumstances, Labor is not portraying itself as an innovative and vigorous party, for which making peace with the Palestinians is a burning desire running through the veins of its leaders, but rather as a supporting actor in a government where Sharon has the most say over its security and political policies.

This brings country back to basic tribulations: the recent suicide attacks have finally dispelled the illusion of a calmer security situation following the Israel Defense Force's Operation Defensive Shield; and the harsh economic figures permeate from behind the media dust created by the ceremonial firings of the Shas ministers.

The national crisis continues, and in order to be saved from it, a new leader is required, a peace-seeking one.