Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s departure from the Labor Party was portrayed in
the media as an earth-shattering event. And it’s true that Israeli politics has
experienced no such upheaval since former prime minister Ariel Sharon left the
Likud and established Kadima in 2005.
But classic political drama
requires both winners and losers. An event with neither tears of defeat
nor cries of victory is not so traumatic. And there was no great tragedy here,
no historic turning point either.
Paradoxically, this unexpected
development left everyone involved feeling rather satisfied. Maybe that’s where
its uniqueness lies: When the dust settled on Barak’s surprise announcement,
each of the major players felt his position had actually improved.
Barak’s point of view, the plan he designed and executed achieved all his goals.
From now on, until the end of the current government’s term, he, and he alone,
controls his own destiny. No one can force him to leave the government and
relinquish the defense portfolio that is so dear to his heart. The threat of
being ousted from his own Labor Party by the many members who opposed him no
longer exists either. The daily, exhausting struggle against rebellious MKs
within his party is over. The four members of his new faction are
unconditionally committed to him, and their loyalty – as a result, among other
factors, of the upgrade they have been granted in the government and Knesset –
Now Barak can focus solely on the tasks mandated by his
ministerial responsibilities – first and foremost of course, the battle against
the Iranian nuclear program. When it is time to face the voters again, it may be
that Barak finds that the escapade he initiated will prove less successful. But
the alternative offered to him by his Labor opponents would, in any case, have
ended his tenure as both defense minister and party chairman in the coming
THE PRIME minister too has good reason to be satisfied with the
way things turned out. At first glance, the mathematic calculations of the
crisis that fractured the Labor Party show that the coalition has lost eight
members. The gap between supporters of the government and those who would like
to see it fall has narrowed significantly, from 28 to 12. But political life, as
is well known, cannot be measured solely with mathematical
On a psychological level, the government can be praised for
a trend reversal of unprecedented importance. Since the moratorium on building
in the settlements in Judea and Samaria lapsed this past September, an
ever-growing question mark had been hovering over Barak’s ability to prevent his
party from leaving the coalition. Indeed, many commentators had predicted that
Barak himself would lead Labor into opposition, in order to win back at least
some of his and the party’s disappointed voters.
Labor’s departure from
the government would have quickly brought about early elections. This
theoretical possibility was becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy, with other
coalition factions becoming more extreme in their conduct almost on a daily
Israel Beiteinu and Shas had embarked on a confrontational path
with each other and with the Likud, on a number of sensitive issues. The smell
of elections was in the air.
Now, Barak’s strategic decision to remain in
the coalition, despite the deep diplomatic freeze, has changed all that at a
stroke, and speaks volumes about the life expectancy of the Netanyahu
The prime minister was not mouthing platitudes when he
declared that the defense minister’s maneuver “contributes to the [government’s]
stability and governability.”
In Washington, Europe, Cairo, Amman and
Ramallah – and, indeed, in Teheran, Damascus and Gaza – it is now understood
that 2011 is not expected to be an election year in Israel.
leading opposition party has no reason to be disappointed with the recent
developments. Tzipi Livni, who in essence forced the majority of senior Kadima
members to remain in the opposition, can justifiably claim that her party is
finally reaping the benefits of its patience. Livni’s assessment after the
elections was that even if Netanyahu were to attempt to advance the diplomatic
process, his “natural partners” from the Right would stop him.
assessment is now gaining credibility, since Barak is now left in a resounding
minority within a government all of whose other members are bound to an agenda
that is the opposite of his own.
The direct implication of diplomatic
deadlock is intensifying diplomatic isolation. The first signs of this isolation
are already evident in the widening phenomenon of countries that are
unilaterally recognizing the emerging Palestinian state.
The more Israel
finds itself in diplomatic isolation, the more Netanyahu’s government will be
vulnerable to harsh criticism, from within and without, for its inflexible
policies. In light of this, Kadima can mark last week as a week in which
it received strong encouragement in its long journey to regain the reins of
Even the remaining Labor MKs, who were stunned by Barak’s
bombshell, can now begin to smile. They have been spared a full year battling in
the bunker of the party’s institutions for early internal elections, to oust
Barak as chairman and pull Labor out of the government. This new reality, formed
overnight, also created an additional opportunity for the Labor party, probably
its very last, to prove to all those who eulogize it that it has the ability to
rise from the ruins and restore its lost honor.
Can everything possibly
pan out the way I’ve described? Probably not. In the business world, a win-win
situation is commonplace. In the political world, it is a rare
scenario. Not long from now, it will become clear that one of the
protagonists involved celebrated too soon.