The confluence of the crisis in relations with Turkey and Israel's failure to block the endorsement of the Goldstone report on Operation Cast Lead leads to some interesting conclusions. The first is that while Ehud Barak clearly lacks any sense of the appropriate behavior for a leader of a social-democratic party, he was right when he wanted to call an early halt to the war in Gaza.
Three days into the fighting, Defense Minister Barak backed the call for a humanitarian cease-fire promoted by French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner. Like many former military commanders, Barak is aware of the limitations of force and was keen to avoid being drawn into a quagmire in the streets of Gaza.
But overruled by Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni, the IDF continued fighting with little appreciable gains and the operation lasted 22 days. Had the cease-fire taken hold earlier, saving hundreds of Palestinian lives, the effect of Operation Cast Lead on world opinion, particularly in Muslim countries such as Turkey, would have been much more muted and the chances are that we would have been spared the Goldstone report.
One wishes that Barak could show the same clarity of mind he possesses in military matters in his behavior as the leader of the Labor Party. The recent scandal surrounding his wasteful trip to Paris is but further evidence of his politically autistic character.
Coming just a month after the government decided to cut all overseas accommodation expenditure by 25 percent, a record bill of more than NIS 944,000 for an overblown entourage of 50 people to the Paris Air Show simply puts Barak in the Marie Antoinette scale of socially sensitive leaders. It seems that home life in his NIS 30 million Tel Aviv ivory tower has truly cut Barak off from how the Israeli mainstream lives and thinks.
Furthermore, his decision last week to bump Isaac Herzog from the Ministerial Ethics Committee - without first telling Herzog - and taking the position himself is another example of how Barak succeeds in alienating those who have been his close political allies. Given the recent questions raised as to why NIS 6.5 million has been transferred to consulting companies run by Barak's daughters since he became defense minister, it is hard to avoid the impression that the committee's work will engage Barak in a clear conflict of interests.
BUT BARAK's real political original sin was joining this government and becoming Binyamin Netanyahu's fig leaf. Livni was wrong in wanting the continuation of Operation Cast Lead, but her dissection of the Netanyahu government in the Knesset's opening session last week in her speech as the leader of the opposition was devastatingly accurate. Since Netanyahu moved into the Prime Minister's Office, she noted, "We defeated America, we humiliated the Palestinians and we isolated ourselves."
Indeed, had the Prime Minister's Office not been so quick and vocal in celebrating its initial success in getting the Palestinians to drop their original pursuit of the Goldstone report, Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas would have avoided the sharp internal criticism that led to his U-turn and his call for an immediate United Nations Human Rights Council discussion of the report. As Livni said, the Israeli leadership's immature desire "to run and tell the boys" wiped out its accomplishments.
More worrying, again as Livni pointed out, this government has no policy save that of survival, adding that Netanyahu's second achievement "and unfortunately that's the way you see it - is that you succeeded in not doing anything at all." This policy of "not doing anything" is a return to the dark years of Yitzhak Shamir's premiership in which the country was embroiled in costly spats with Washington over construction in the West Bank and the outburst of the first intifada.
During the Olmert government, when peace talks with the Palestinians were ongoing and, importantly, were a genuine attempt to reach an agreement, we enjoyed the diplomatic freedom (and the quiet support of the moderate Sunni Arab world) to initiate two wars against Iranian proxies, Hizbullah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza.
Today, when Netanyahu is touting Iran's nuclear ambitions as the greatest threat to the Jewish people since Hitler but simultaneously flouting American attempts to restart the peace process with the Palestinians, our freedom of action has been drastically eroded. The Turkish cancellation of military exercises with the IDF and the Human Rights Council endorsement of the Goldstone report are the first warnings of a new, damaging period in relations with the world.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman can fly to as many far-away countries as he likes (and the atmosphere here certainly improves the more days he is abroad) in his wishful-thinking attempt to build future alliances to replace diplomatic reliance on Washington, but as long as Israel refuses to negotiate seriously with the Palestinians, its standing in the world will continue to plummet. Lieberman's recent hosts in Russia, Argentina and Brazil, it should be noted, continued their traditional UN policy at the weekend and voted against Israel.
The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.
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