Another Tack: Cynics, fanatics and crooks

Are the two cantankerous Ehuds really at odds? Only superficially. Their petulance is hardly issue-driven

The latest storm in Israel's over-stirred political teacup is the reported disharmony between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and the man he longed to see as his defense minister, Ehud Barak. The two Ehuds have more in common than first names. Olmert is the current undisputed holder of the country's "Worst Premier" title, while Barak is the runner-up, previous titleholder (who was indeed an incredibly difficult act to follow) and active contender to regain said title. So what happened? Pundits claim that "a black cat came between the two." In local idiom, that means that a harbinger of discord got in the way of their otherwise symbiotic relationship. That unhelpful cat answers to the name of Peace, and was custom-bred on orders from Annapolis. While Olmert gushes excitedly over the saccharine potential of the Peace of Annapolis, Barak (quite possibly reluctant to see his 2000 Camp David fiasco upstaged) has been begrudging, carping and voicing reservations. Olmert retaliated with his own nasty digs at Barak, which forced the latter Ehud to pay obligatory lip service to Annapolis after all, but too stintingly to placate Annapolis's avid enthusiast. That's how the black cat seemed to have disrupted what appeared like the perfect, mutually beneficial friendship. But are the two cantankerous Ehuds really at odds? Only superficially. Their petulance is hardly issue-driven. DESPITE THEIR present coalition connection, they come from different places and are bound for different destinations. Their divergent orientations are best highlighted by now antique spoof-definitions of communist dialectic terminology. How do materialists, idealists and Marxists differ in seeking the elusive socialist utopia? asked the Soviet-era satirist. A materialist enters a dark room to chase a nonexistent black cat, but he knows there's no cat. An idealist enters a dark room to chase a nonexistent black cat, but he believes there is a cat. A Marxist enters a dark room to chase the nonexistent black cat, and he keeps finding it. With appropriate modifications to cater to Israel's so-called Peace Camp, the above pursuit of the black cat can account for the tiff between the Ehuds and even explain why Meretz is so aghast at the defense minister. Israel's peace pulpit attracts three generic preacher varieties - cynics, fanatics and crooks. For decades, the cynics were the prime movers and shakers. They brought us Oslo and all its derivative disasters. They didn't necessarily trust they'd achieve the peace they promised; they had political axes to grind. Shimon Peres's peace odyssey began far back in the late 1980s, when he found himself serving in a national unity government under Yitzhak Shamir. Peres's unrelenting scheme to renege on the prime-ministerial rotation deal and topple Shamir was dubbed "the stinking maneuver" by no other than Yitzhak Rabin. Forever frustrated, Peres next found himself serving under Rabin. Not one to sulk on the sidelines, he kicked his peace quest into higher gear - characteristically behind the premier's back. Rabin himself was exasperated by his smarting failure to quell the first intifada while serving as Shamir's defense minister. This is where the assertion that "there's no military solution to terror" originated. Rabin was quite ready to clutch at Peres's Oslo fait accompli as a face-saving vindication. BARAK CONTINUED this cynical manipulation. He quickly emerged as the then-worst-ever premier. Unkind polls ominously predicted his downfall. A quick fix at Camp David and later a desperate last Taba attempt were prescribed to win back some residual political advantage. His ploys had nothing to do with peace. This is why Barak can play Olmert's spoilsport now. He speaks from experience. He had fallen into every pitfall toward which Olmert now merrily hops. Barak's wet-blanket antics can only score him points. For the cynics it's all about politics. The fanatics know Barak is as cynical as they come and are accordingly spiteful. For them the peace process - illusory and injurious though it be - is the be all and end all. They are what yesteryear's Bolshevik tyrants derided as "useful fools" - misguided do-gooders undermining their own interests and proclaimed ideals by abetting exploitive despots. These fanatics, who control our media, congregate most noticeably in Meretz, Peace Now, Yesh Gvul, Gush Shalom and weirder-yet fringe frameworks. Though their every peace initiative came a cropper calamitously, they won't let facts interfere with their hallucinations. No amount of bloodshed, bereavement and bedlam can cure their life-threatening cognitive dissonance. They dismiss as "fear-mongering" cogent warnings against the mortal danger about to be inflicted on central Israel. They diagnose as "insane" anyone who dares confront them with the devastating consequences of all their past egregious misjudgments. They adamantly deny Israel is besieged by enemies, no matter how much crude anti-Jewish venom Arab propaganda spews. Peace is always attainable if we're contrite enough, concede enough and wish hard enough. Contrary to conventional wisdom, the crooks were among us considerably before Ariel Sharon and Olmert faced police interrogators. Rabin rammed Oslo down the Knesset throat via the indispensable collusion of two Tsomet defectors - Alex Goldfarb, who sold his soul for a Mitsubishi, and Gonen Segev (later convicted of drug smuggling), who was bought off with a ministerial office. But of course Sharon and Olmert, who gave us disengagement, are incomparable. Both found themselves in legal hot water and to avoid prosecution needed to suck up to the fanatics and cynics who call the shots among opinion-molders and in the legal establishment. So to get back to the dark room - Peres, Rabin and Barak entered it to chase the black cat of peace, knowing full well it didn't exist. Meretz and fellow-travelers blindly believe the cat is there. Olmert followed unilateralist Sharon into the pitch dark to nab the cat-that-isn't and, like his predecessor, he professes to have grabbed hold of it. He even conjured up a peace-partner (Mahmoud Abbas) and guarantees delivery of full peace within the year (before G.W. Bush's term ends). The seeming-squabble between Olmert and Barak is nothing but the moral distinction between the investigated crook and cynic. We are collectively the victims of both.