Washington Watch: Labor’s love lost

By D. BLOOMFIELD
January 19, 2011 23:08

As demands within the party to bolt the coalition became louder due to the faltering peace process, Barak had to make a choice.

4 minute read.



Douglas Bloomfield

douglas bloomfield 63. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Ehud Barak wanted to be the Labor Party’s leader in the worst way, and that’s just what he’s done. After twice taking it down the road to defeat – including a failed term as prime minister – and turning the oncedominant party into a weak also-ran, he pushed it off a cliff this week and left to form his own party.

A friend in Jerusalem e-mailed me Sunday as the news broke: “You can start saying Kaddish for Labor now.”

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Actually, it’s been on life support for a long time; Barak just pulled the plug.

Once the party of the working classes, it had become a party of elitists as it watched Likud and even Shas fill its former role.

The party that founded the state was struck a final blow by its own leader, who had plotted its demise with Likud Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. It comes as little surprise to those who know Barak’s first loyalty has always been to Barak, not the party or anyone else.

All the blame for Labor’s demise can’t be put on Barack.

The party of David Ben-Gurion, Golda Meir and Yitzhak Rabin has suffered from a string of ineffectual leaders and lacked a clear message for voters. In the last election it came in fourth behind Likud, Kadima and Israel Beiteinu; today it is down to a mere eight seats, and there’s no telling how many of those will stay.

The Left has been unable to find a way to counter a right-wing prime minister and a coalition of more extreme elements, although Barak initially claimed he brought Labor into the coalition for that purpose. The promise to give Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition a small degree of balance never materialized.

Barak in recent months has faced increasing pressure to pull Labor out of Netanyahu’s dysfunctional government because of its failure to make progress on the peace process. The word from Washington was that the administration was furious with Barak for “deceiving” it about his clout in pushing Netanyahu toward peace, reported Haaretz.

Furious or not, the administration prefers dealing with Barak over Netanyahu, who has a history of meddling in American partisan politics and is not trusted at the upper levels of the Obama administration.

Barak is not only the defense minister but also the de facto foreign minister because the man who holds the title, Avigdor Lieberman, has been a disaster and largely sidelined by his old mentor, Netanyahu. With Labor out of the government, Lieberman is strengthened, because in a coalition that rules with only a five-seat majority (66 of 120), his 15 seats can hold the balance of power.

NETANYAHU AND Lieberman may be feuding, but don’t look for the prime minister to push his former protégé out of the government; he needs him inside the tent spitting out rather than the other way round because he is reportedly terrified that if Lieberman brings down the government, the former bouncer will run against him and bounce him right out of office.

As demands within Labor to leave the government became louder because of the faltering peace process, Barak had to make a choice: leave the job he loved or the party he didn’t care much about. It was an easy decision.

Barak never really was a party man. The party had anxiously embraced him in the 1990s as the IDF’s most decorated soldier in the hope he could lead it to ever-elusive victory. He was a loner, rarely if ever consulting his closest colleagues, even to the point that when he decided to dissolve his government and call new elections in 2001, most cabinet members and aides only learned about it from the media.

Journalists Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff described Barak as “arrogant, aloof, condescending, a habitual intriguer against his fellow ministers and political partners who is constantly accused of corruption [but never indicted].”

Barak convinced the Clinton administration to convene two peace summits for him – one with the Palestinians and the other with the Syrians. None of the three sides was really ready to close a deal, and the talks collapsed, setting back chances for peace on both tracks.

Eitan Cabel, a Labor MK and Barak critic, said: “The curtain has come down on the glorious Labor movement.”

Barak may have intrigued and sold out the party behind his colleagues’ backs, but Labor had long since lost sight of its historic social mission, replacing it with unrealistic ideas of how to negotiate peace. The Palestinians are not ready to make peace with a Jewish state, and Netanyahu is not ready to give up settlements and territory to a Palestinian state.

A disingenuous Netanyahu is touting Barak’s move as advancing the peace process because it will remove any expectations of flexibility on his part. But the opposite is closer to reality. The party split removes any internal pressure on Netanyahu to produce a peace plan or to be more flexible – if both sides ever do decide to sit down and talk seriously. It’s hard to imagine the Palestinians taking this shift as a signal that it’s time for them to finally get serious about negotiating.

Netanyahu would not be disappointed to see the peace process collapse, as long as he doesn’t get the blame.

Barak got rid of kvetching colleagues who wanted him to live up to his vow to make a difference for peace, but the old soldier just surrendered any clout he may have had.

bloomfieldcolumn@gmail.com


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