Ehud Barak’s dramatic departure from the Labor Party, designed to help him
remain in the cabinet, has solidified his role as Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu’s enabler. For two years, Barak has led Labor to irrelevance while
facilitating the right-wing policies of the government led by Netanyahu and
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Throughout this time, Barak has maintained
that his staying in the government was in the interests of national
In truth, his position in the government has served to
undermine national security. His latest move suggests that he will continue to
do so. Far from supporting “Independence” – the name of Barak’s new political
movement – his continued irresponsible behavior will only further intensify the
The assumption that Barak joined the coalition to
moderate its policies has proven to be false. Upon joining in March 2009, Barak
told his party, “I am not afraid of Binyamin Netanyahu. We will not serve as
anyone’s fig leaf. We will ensure there will not be a narrow right-wing
government, but a real government that looks after the State of
If only this were true.
Instead, Barak has been party to
a government that has created friction with allies like Turkey and the US,
become hostage to settlers and rightwing initiatives, pursued loyalty oaths to
discredit Israeli Arabs and McCarthy-like witch-hunts of left-wing peace
activists and humanitarian watchdog groups – all while the peace process has
ground to a halt. The US believed in Barak but, as recently reported, it no
longer does. One Israeli official reportedly said that a US official outlined
the White House’s frustration with Barak clearly.
INSTEAD OF leaving the
Netanyahu government on principle, based on its failed and even deranged
policies, Barak has doubleddown, and the relationship with the US is likely to
suffer as a result.
Barak undermined Labor, brought it to its knees and
now, much to the relief of its remaining members, he has left it. The party is
merely a fragment of its former self and it has Barak to blame. Since the
collapse of the Oslo Accords at Camp David, Barak has been insistent that only
he could bring peace and security.
But his delusions of grandeur have
derailed a once strong and vibrant political party, and along with it, the
influence of its platform of peace with security.
But as Labor members
like Isaac Herzog, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer and Avishay Braverman pick up the
pieces, they can take solace in the fact that Barak will no longer have their
party hostage in a government pursuing policies that are antithetical to their
principles. “The Labor Party, which founded the State of Israel, got rid of the
hump on its back,” Herzog told reporters. “Ehud Barak’s masked ball is
Barak has all along claimed that he serves as a shield of national
security concerns. But national security is more threatened today than ever
before, and its relationships with allies frayed. Hizbullah and its patron,
Iran, are flexing their muscles in southern Lebanon, Hamas remains a threat in
Gaza, the Palestinian Authority is weakened in the West Bank by the ineffectual
peace process and the prospect for peace with Syria remains remote amidst
Lieberman’s outlandish comments and behavior.
The country is more
isolated in the international community than at any time before; its ties in the
US, and even with the American Jewish community, are becoming strained. Is this
Barak’s idea of national security? All of these setbacks can be attributed to
Barak’s enabling the Netanyahu government to avoid policies that would secure
Israel’s place among the international community, such as presenting a peace
plan of its own.
Instead of being ashamed, Barak remains in the
limelight, and therefore he is proud. Only the people are ashamed.
THE Palestinians, Barak’s latest move is another blow to hopes that the once
powerful Labor Party might reemerge as a partner for peace. Like the Americans,
the Palestinians had hoped Barak would serve to moderate the far right-wing
nature of Netanyahu’s government.
Instead, he has split Labor and become
part of the right-wing establishment. This will add fuel to the belief that the
Palestinians have no partner, intensifying the campaign to pass resolutions
criticizing and isolating Israel at the UN, as well as gain recognition for a
Palestinian state throughout the international community. Rather than convincing
the Palestinians that they have no choice but to deal with a stable (yet
uncompromising rightwing) government, as many in the coalition have claimed,
Barak’s move will likely only nudge them toward more unilateral
Barak had a choice. He could have left the government, taking
Labor’s 12 seats out of the 74-seat coalition, leaving it vulnerable to
In the process, the government would be comprised of
exclusively right-wing members, many of whom are opposed to the concept of land
for peace. Doing so would have demonstrated leadership and dedication to core
principles, to doing all Israel can to promote peace while ensuring its security
and the vibrancy of its democracy.
These have been the espoused values of
the Labor Party, to which Barak has subscribed since he entered politics in
1995. Taking Labor out of the government would have contrasted a weak,
right-wing coalition with 61 seats with a centrist, peace-promoting opposition
of 59 seats. But it would have also taken away Barak’s belief in his own
influence, making him simply part of the opposition led by Kadima’s Tzipi Livni.
Therefore, Barak did not make this choice. Instead of choosing what is best for
the country, Barak, true to form, betrayed both his party and the nation and
chose what is best for himself.
It is a farce that in his statement
announcing his new party Barak said, “The top priority [of this movement] will
be first and foremost the state, then the party and only at the end,
The new Independence faction of five seats will remain a fig leaf
for the coalition, now at 66 seats, while the remaining members of Labor will
join the opposition. In some cases, Labor members may join Kadima. While the
government is weaker in number, it has gained strength by removing the cloud
that the grumblings within Labor had caused.
Sadly, it may have also
removed hope for turning the tide against the momentum pulling the country into
Barak is now a national tragedy. A leader who once held such
promise has now driven the founding party of the state into the ground. He has
cast his lot with Netanyahu and a right-wing government that has shown no
interest in safeguarding the prospects for peace, nor the principles of
After Barak’s announcement, Netanyahu told reporters, “The
whole world knows, and the Palestinians know, that this government will be
around for the next few years and that it is with this government that they
should negotiate for peace.”
If Barak can somehow bring this right-wing
government to achieve this goal, his actions will be vindicated. But this time,
nobody will be fooled into counting on him to provide principled and moral
leadership.The writer is professor of international relations at the
Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches international negotiation and
Middle Eastern studies.