Barak's promise

It's a sad commentary on our situation that it was left to Lieberman to set a positive example for Barak.

Barak grin 224 88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Barak grin 224 88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
The departure of Avigdor Lieberman's Israel Beiteinu party from the coalition is refreshing for three reasons: 1) Lieberman kept his promise to leave if talks on 'core issues' began, 2) a party that attempts to remove the citizenship of Israeli Arabs through land swaps should not be part of a ruling coalition, and 3) Lieberman's departure should set an example that will weaken Ehud Olmert's grip on the Prime Ministe's Office. This first aspect, the simple keeping of a promise, should not be minimized. We are so used to our leaders setting 'red lines' and abandoning them, or running on particular platforms and doing the near opposite, that we have become desensitized to the demoralizing effect of politicians whose words are rendered meaningless. The public recognizes that leaders need to retain a level of flexibility, but it is hard for a political system to operate when all commitments seem to have become worthless, sometimes just days after they are made. Our current premier is a champion at this. It was Olmert who set the objective at the beginning of the Second Lebanon War of completely defeating Hizbullah and removing the threat from the northern border, once and for all. It was Olmert who, in the weeks before the Annapolis conference said he would not negotiate with anyone who did not recognize the principle of a Jewish state and who, just weeks later, abandoned this red line as if it never existed. It is Olmert who continues to promise the dismantling of illegal outposts (with no evident plan for doing so) and to seek a final status agreement by the end of the year, raising expectations to impossible levels and putting Israel in an impossible position. Accordingly, the majority of Israelis have lost confidence in Olmert and have been patiently waiting for some party leader to stand up and leave. Lieberman's party is the first to do so, and deserves credit for that on the level of political hygiene, at least. It is a sad commentary on our situation that it was left to Lieberman to set a positive example for Labor's Ehud Barak. The Labor Party leader made a promise as well, namely not to continue under an Olmert premiership following the release of the final Winograd Report. There was no logic, aside from raw and probably mistaken political calculations, that justified Labor's sustaining Olmert after Barak called on him to resign following the interim Winograd Report. Since it has been clear all along that the final Winograd Report would not erase and would likely worsen that committee's verdict on Olmert, why did Barak promise to delay his ultimatum to Olmert until the final Winograd Report came out? However incoherent and insufficient Barak's initial promise was, its abandonment would be an even more egregious indictment of his leadership and of the Labor Party. Barak has no choice now but to insist that Olmert step aside, or else take Labor out of the government. According to a recent poll in Yediot Aharonot, only 8 percent of the public believes that Ehud Olmert should be prime minister. The public would likely not trust him to run the government in less challenging times, but certainly not as rockets rain down on Sderot, as the threat from Iran grows, as Hizbullah rearms in Lebanon, and as the future of the country may be advanced or compromised at the negotiating table. Under these circumstances, a case can be made for Olmert's replacement in some version of the current coalition, or for new elections. But the current combination of a leadership crisis created both by the sudden incapacitation of Ariel Sharon and the collapse in confidence in his successor and external challenges would seem to warrant an emergency coalition of national unity under a new prime minister. What is already clear, even before the final Winograd Report, is that the worst option is a continuation of the status quo. While Olmert himself bears primary responsibility for not drawing the personal conclusions that Dan Halutz and Amir Peretz eventually did, it is Ehud Barak who is now sustaining Olmert's coalition. Barak and the Labor Party leadership apparently fear new elections, in which polls indicate that the party would lose seats. But it should be obvious that Labor will only continue to lose more of the public's confidence if it clings to Olmert's sinking political ship. If Barak can succeed in engineering Olmert's resignation without new elections, that might be preferable, but Labor must not sustain this government just to avoid going to the polls. Lieberman kept his commitment; Barak should keep his promise to the public as well.