(photo credit: )
On Tuesday, former Labor prime minister Ehud Barak broke a long media silence with a somewhat cryptic press conference at Kibbutz Sdot Yam.
After noting that former IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz had resigned and Defense Minister Amir Peretz had said he would step down after the Labor primaries, Barak said that "I am sure the prime minister, whom I respect as an Israeli patriot, will find a way to reach personal conclusions, but so far it hasn't happened."
Barak said he would serve as defense minister under Olmert, though it is not clear whether this would be conditioned on setting a date for early elections or not. After the press conference, Barak told the Jerusalem Post
that he saw no point in Labor ministers resigning now, since "Olmert has other coalition options."
The upshot was that Barak sounded much like Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who said Olmert should resign, but was willing to serve in his government. This is perhaps understandable from a sitting minister and senior member of the premier's party, but why would Barak, who is not even a Member of Knesset, act so protectively of the government?
The answer, it seems, is that Barak's audience was not the general public, who wants to see Olmert gone, but voters in the May 29 Labor primaries. And according to a poll published Wednesday in Yediot Ahronot, 55 percent of registered Labor party members want their party to stay in the government, while only 32 percent think they should leave.
Ami Ayalon, who is Barak's main opponent in the Labor primary race, criticized him for being vague, and said that Labor should leave the coalition if Olmert does not resign. But it is not clear that Ayalon would immediately pull Labor out if he won the primary.
In addition, the more anti-Olmert faction within Labor does not seem to reflect the mainstream of the party's senior figures and members. More typical is Welfare Minister Isaac Herzog, who praised Barak's remarks as "sane, judicious and responsible, with a statement of values and a practical solution that will prevent [Binyamin] Netanyahu's entry into the arena."
Though Barak claims that the Olmert government can survive without Labor, it seems that most Labor leaders and members do not share this view. Moreover, Barak's actions indicate the opposite, namely thinks that the only way to avoid elections is for Labor to cling to the government.
That said, it could well be that Labor's preference is for Kadima to oust Olmert so that Labor could have its cake and eat it too: no elections and no Olmert.
There are, however, a few problems with this implicit Labor plan. The first is that Kadima is showing no signs that it will replace Olmert, at least until the final Winograd report emerges in the summer. Even then, why would Olmert not respond to the full report the same way, by pledging to stay and implement it?
Second, the Labor party, which presumably would like to present itself as representing change, renewal, and clean government, is in the meantime looking like Olmert's security blanket.
Third, there is the biggest problem of all: that the world will not stop and wait for Winograd's next pronouncement and for the government to fall.
It is clear that Olmert, despite his talk of implementing Winograd's recommendations, is too busy fighting for his political survival to advance any national agenda. Livni is already complaining that, Winograd's critique notwithstanding, there has been no serious discussion or study of what to do about the missile attacks on Sderot and the looming threat from Gaza.
We need a full-time government now in order to begin a process of national recovery, to be ready for any eventuality, and to pursue a strategy that will not just be reactive, but will actively advance our national interests. For now, Kadima and Labor are standing shoulder-to-shoulder to block such an eventuality.