Fundamentally Freund: A farewell to Labor?

Before those on the Right begin to gloat, they need to contemplate the political meaning of what just occurred.

We were treated this week to some exciting political theater of the sort that only our deeply flawed system of government could produce. In a stunning development, Defense Minister Ehud Barak announced on Monday that he was abandoning the Labor Party, and taking with him four other parliamentarians to form a new faction.
Barak left behind a rump collection of eight bitterly divided MKs in a Labor Party that now looks about as appealing as last week’s cholent.
In record time, he proceeded to forge a quick coalition deal with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, ensuring that he will continue in his post.
Political pundits, of course, had a field day, while various commentators on the Left sounded as if they were in desperate need of some Valium.
Consider the following: One columnist in Haaretz labeled Barak “a saboteur” and likened him to “a computer virus” which has destroyed the Left from the inside. Another analyst, on Ynet, compared Barak to Hizbullah ministers who recently quit the Lebanese government, while only grudgingly acknowledging that he is not a member of a terrorist organization.
And just why, you might be wondering, is the Left so apoplectic? After all, many of them have grown to despise Barak. Shouldn’t they be rejoicing at his departure rather than cursing him on his way out the door? Essentially, what Barak’s critics fear is that this maneuver has dashed any chance of the Netanyahu coalition imploding, which would have led to early elections. They had pinned their hopes on Labor pulling out of the government in the next two months to protest the lack of progress on the Palestinian front. Such a step, they prayed, would have caused the government to unravel and thereby paved the way for a return to the ballot box.
But now that the coalition has ostensibly freed itself of Labor while retaining a comfortable majority, it appears as if Netanyahu can look forward to completing his four-year term. And the Labor Party, which was viewed as the vanguard of the Left, is now in tatters, a ghost of its former self.
IN THIS regard, I have a confession to make: It is hard not to revel at Labor’s troubles. After all, this is the party that gave us the 1993 Oslo Accords – the greatest strategic disaster in the country’s history.
Labor leaders brought Yasser Arafat and his cohorts to our shores, handed them weapons and turned over territory to them, all of which resulted in unprecedented terror and violence. They sought to give the Golan to Syria, and did not rule out dividing Jerusalem. In effect, the party which built the state came perilously close to endangering its very existence.
Moreover, Labor bequeathed us the socialist trappings and bureaucratic labyrinth that continue to hold our economy back with overregulation, heavy taxation and reams of red tape.
Such a party should long ago have been banished to obscurity by the electorate. If Barak’s gambit speeds this process along, that alone might justify the move.
But before those on the Right begin to gloat, they need to contemplate the political meaning of what just occurred. Remember: had Netanyahu wished, he could have brought the National Union, with its four MKs, into the government rather than Barak and his gang of five. On the surface, this would have made more sense from an ideological point of view, as it would have cemented the coalition and its right-wing posture.
By selecting Barak instead, the premier was sending a clear message to Washington and the international community that he remains open to reaching a deal with the Palestinians. However skeptical the Obama administration and the Europeans may be on this point, they cannot ignore Netanyahu’s choice of partner.
This is the same Barak who a decade ago almost gave away the store to Arafat at Camp David during the waning days of Bill Clinton’s presidency. And it is the same Barak who has been implementing a “quiet freeze” on Jewish construction in Judea and Samaria for the past few months, refusing to sign off on various building plans sitting on his desk.
So even while Labor may be preparing to turn off the lights, it is too soon to conclude that its perilous policies will die along with it. If anything, the events of this week might just present new opportunities for Barak and his comrades to keep Labor’s dubious legacy alive.
What a terrible shame that would be.