Ehud Barak is featured in the top of the front page headline of Monday''s Israel Hayom, "Barak''s Plan: Withdrawal, maybe one-sided, from Yehuda and Shomron"
Inside are the details. It is time to make hard decisions about the West Bank in order to facilitate the creation of a Palestinian State if the Palestinians want it. Israel should negotiate its absorption of settlements containing some 90 percent of the settlers. Those are, principally, Gush Etzion, Maale Adumim, Ariel, and the towns near them. Israel should withdraw from the remaining small settlements, offering their residents compensation and alternate places to live either within pre-1967 Israel or the settlement blocs to be retained. Families or communities who do not want to leave the settlements to be abandoned will remain under Palestinian government, starting with a trial period of five years. Israel will retain troops on the strategic heights that threaten the international airport, as well as in the Jordan Valley. If the Palestinians can''t accept something like that, Israel should proceed to do it unilaterally.
Barak says that Yom Kippur is a time for soul searching and remembering history. He may be referring to the Yom Kippur War, which this year is being marked by a new book describing a plan offered by Sadat and promoted by Henry Kissinger before the war, which Prime Minister Golda Meir refused to consider.
It might also be Barak''s Hail Mary pass. The party that Barak led in its split from Labor in January, 2011 (Independence) currently has five MKs. Polls have cast doubt on its winning enough votes to qualify for the minimum of two MKs required in order to enter the next Knesset.
Barak has been wavering with respect to the prominent issue of Iran and the United States. He has been identified as the strongest supporter in the government of Prime Minister Netanyahu''s inclination to attack, and sometimes viewed as the man pushing Netanyahu in that direction. (Their long time personal relationship goes back to when Barak was Netanyahu''s commander in an IDF elite unit.) At other times Barak has expressed understanding and even support for Barack Obama''s posture that Israel should rely on the United States, that the United States will not let Iran acquire nuclear weapons, even while the United States should not indicate just when and what it will do to prevent that from happening.
Barak''s initiative may be his effort to reinstate himself as the left-of-center alternative to Netanhayu and Likud. The current leader of the Labor Party, Shelli Yehimovitch, has anchored herself as a proponent of social justice, and has no experience in Israel''s iconic issue of defense. Barak became known as a military commander. He led the operation (with Netanyahu among the participants) that freed the passengers of the Sabena airliner hijacked in 1972. Eventually he became the IDF''s commanding general. His political career has included terms as Interior Minister, Foreign Minister, Prime Minister, and Defense Minister. He has been an active Defense Minister, on some occasions seeming to dominate the military head of the IDF within the general''s nominal realm of command.
It will not be easy for Barak to get back to a prominent political slot to the left of center, even if his campaign takes off about solving Israel''s problems with the Palestinians. While widely viewed as brilliant, creative, and an expert on things military, he also has a reputation for being prickly in the extreme, not tolerating fools, critics, or rivals. He made enemies among party cadres during his leadership of Labor, which he added to by his exit from Labor. While a political analyst should never say never, Barak will have a difficult job getting back into the leadership of the Labor Party, if that is what he wants.
One should also ask if his dramatic announcement will attract anything more than instant rejection and ridicule from Palestinians. His minimum demands do not correspond with what they have indicated they would accept with respect to the territory he would absorb within Israel, as well as his concern to maintain troops at strategic points in what he suggests might become Palestinian.
Without Palestinian support, Barak''s idea of unilateral withdrawal looks too much like Sharon''s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza. Against Israelis who argue that Sharon''s unilateral withdrawal worked to Israel''s advantage by removing a chronic source of friction, assassinations of settlers, and casualties among troops needed to guard them, are Israelis who argue that it signaled weakness, and invited continuing missile attacks on southern towns and cities. A similar withdrawal from the West Bank will invite missile attacks from points even closer to the congested center of the country.
Already lining up on the side of "bad idea" is MK Dan Meridor (Likud). MK Silvan Shalom (also Likud) "all but dismissed the proposal."
"We must remember that this was Ehud Olmert''s plan in the 2006 elections . . . But it must be said that I don''t believe that Barak will be in such a position that he will be the person that decides in 2013 what the exact stance of the government will be."
Yom Kippur adds symbolism to the timing, but also problems. For about 30 hours beginning Tuesday afternoon there will be no newspaper, radio or television, as well as virtually no road traffic or planes landing and taking off from the international airport. If it is a normal Yom Kippur, Wednesday evening''s news will be about how many Israelis fainted during the fast, and how many children required medical attentin on account of mass bicycling on normally busy roads. We''ll only know on Thursday if Barak''s idea has survived the lull, or passed immediately into the bulging cabinet of other suggestions thought brilliant by some, but seldom mentioned after an exciting announcement.
גמר חתימה טובה
May the Almighty sign you up for a good year.