What Is Barak Doing in Netanyahu's 'Repub-Likud' Government?

After one year, Ehud Barak now regrets his eagerness to join the Netanyahu government.

Once upon a time, at the Knesset, Shin Bet security service head Amos Manor waited for prime minister David Ben-Gurion, who had just delivered an address expressing his desire to once again assemble a government "without Herut and without Maki" - Likud's precursor and the Israel Communist Party, respectively. Years later, Manor told a friend about the conversation he'd had with Ben-Gurion as they walked to the Prime Minister's Office.

"Why without Herut?" Manor asked him. "Without the Communist Party I can understand, but why Herut? After all, they're Jews, Zionists and patriots." Ben-Gurion didn't answer immediately, but when he reached his office he stopped suddenly, grabbed Manor by his jacket and said, "Amos, they're fantasists! Put them in power and they're liable to cause the destruction of the state!"

Ben-Gurion's reconciliation with Menachem Begin later on, amid their hostility toward Levi Eshkol, did not invalidate that statement. Benjamin Netanyahu is the scion of this chain of fantasists - speakers, prophets, poets, lovers of self-indulgence, those who take pleasure in the sound of their own voices wafting across adoring crowds. And then there is Ehud Barak, rather reluctant to sign on as the fantasist's apprentice.

Barak now regrets his eagerness a year ago to join Netanyahu's jug band as third fiddle, given that his instrument of choice is the piano. He already knew that such a collaboration would have poor results. It's ridiculous to hear Barak utter comments about the forum of seven's seriousness of purpose. It's not impressive, certainly not like Golda Meir's government, boasting the likes of Moshe Dayan and Abba Eban, Yigal Allon and Pinchas Sapir - that is, until Yom Kippur 1973.

What does Barak's Labor Party have to do with the foolish and transparent tactics of Netanyahu - who is meddling in internal American politics as if a single party, the Repub-Likud, ruled on both sides of the ocean? John Boehner, the House of Representatives' minority leader, has asked his Republican supporters for donations this week to wage a two-pronged fight against Barack Obama - on Israel and health care. This backing of Netanyahu confirmed Democrats' suspicions that the Israeli prime minister is their political rival. But the 300 members of Congress from both parties who sent a pro-Israel missive to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton barely addressed the significance of building in East Jerusalem, focusing their questions merely on the manners and protocol of U.S.-Israel relations.

Even if George W. Bush - the first president to speak of a Palestinian state and the one who forced Ariel Sharon to give his blessing - or John McCain were now sitting in the White House, the U.S. government would still not have any other policy. Ronald Reagan, of the 1982 "Reagan Plan" for the Middle East, was a Republican, as were Henry Kissinger, Reagan's successor, George H.W. Bush, and James Baker. For those interested in peace, a peace dependent mainly but not exclusively on Arab acceptance of Israel, the basis always was and remains the Green Line. The only question was whether to wait for peace to come without exerting any effort, or to let the settlements remain "facts on the ground" to lower the odds of it ever actually happening.

Obama will not give up. He has no time. He aims to be an exceptional president, not just one among many. He is shaking up the world order, setting goals and sparing no effort to meet them. Regarding the Middle East, his stance is in line with his stated goal of maintaining Israel's security. But Obama's position is different from that held by Moshe Feiglin and the settlers, without whom Netanyahu would have no party, and from that of Sara Netanyahu.

It's not Obama, it's Netanyahu. Barak appointed himself as their transformer - the device that converts Netanyahu's 220 volts to Obama's 110. A year has passed and it's now apparent that Barak has no chance of achieving that. One side is bound to short-circuit, taking with it the converter itself. When the situation is so volatile, when the differences between fantasy and reality run so deep, Barak's effectiveness in his post vanishes - he simply watches from his office and fights the force of gravity pinning him to his chair, underneath a portrait of Ben-Gurion. This week we'll finally see him begin to rise - and we can only hope to return to the same place in a different government, one more circumspect in showing real concern for Israel's security.