Take responsibility

In simple political terms, it is hard to understand why Barak seems so immovable.

Barak 224 88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Barak 224 88
(photo credit: AP [file])
At a press conference last spring convened for this purpose, Ehud Barak called for Ehud Olmert's resignation. He also said, "If I am elected chairman of the Labor Party, and the prime minister has yet to reach personal conclusions, I will act to form a wide consensus in my party and with the faction leaders to determine an appropriate and agreed date for elections. "Only a leadership that enjoys the deep faith of the public can lead Israel in this current crisis," Barak added. Barak was right. And in fact, the leader of our nation does not enjoy the deep faith of the public, or anything close to it. In a nationwide poll published in the Yisrael Hayom daily yesterday, 57 percent of the public said Olmert should resign, compared to 25% who said he should not. In addition, when asked what it preferred if Olmert were to resign, 65% of our extremely election-averse public said it wanted new elections, compared to 23% who preferred a new leader from Kadima. And all this is after much of the media had portrayed the Winograd Committee's Final Report, issued Wednesday, as having exonerated Olmert. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who also called for Prime Minister Olmert's resignation when the interim report came out last April yet stayed to serve under him, emphasized yesterday that "the responsibility was not taken off our shoulders last night - let us not delude ourselves." She stated that it is "very hard for the Israeli people to hear the term 'missed opportunity'," as the report summed up the war. "The report is severe and we must carry on together - that is what taking responsibility is," she concluded. This reaction may explain in part why the public seems not to be interested in Livni taking Olmert's place to avoid elections. "Carrying on together" is not "taking responsibility," but its opposite. Barak has not responded officially to the Winograd Report and is not expected to for a few days. Yet just about everyone assumes that he would not have kept his promise even if the final report had seemed as harsh as the interim report (it was arguably harsher, but this is not the perception). Now that Olmert has been exonerated by Winograd of being driven by illegitimate motives, Barak seems poised to treat the report's heavily documented litany of gross negligence, lack of expertise and systematic failures as insufficient justification to keep his promise and demand Olmert's resignation, backed up by the credible threat to withdraw his party from the government. This would be a mistake for Barak, a devastating decision for the Labor Party, and a terrible blow to the national interest that Barak claims is uppermost on his mind. In simple political terms, it is hard to understand why Barak seems so immovable. Yes, polls indicate that Labor would shrink from its current 19 seats if elections were held today. But how does tying Labor's fate to that of a profoundly unpopular prime minister improve the party's position? It does not help that the pressure within Labor on Barak is divided mostly on predictable lines: senior members with cabinet posts are against maintaining the pressure for Olmert to step down, backed up by the threat of leaving the coalition; more junior Labor MKs want Barak to honor his promise. Perhaps these senior members see no future for the Labor Party, or even more cynically, no future for themselves in government beyond the current coalition, and so are bent on holding on to their seats regardless of their party's best interest, let alone that of the nation. This situation will not change for the better so long as the prime minister clings to power, however. The negotiating process with the Palestinians begun at Annapolis will certainly not remove Olmert's or Barak's chestnuts from the fire. If anything, there will be growing public resentment toward the increasingly transparent use of negotiations that are either pointless or dangerous as a political crutch. We wish that we did not have to resort to political analyses to try and convince Barak and Livni to do the right thing. We wish that when leaders said they were only thinking of the nation's best interest, they meant it. If they did, they would see the blindingly obvious: that the people - who also staff our people's army and put their lives on the line for the nation's survival - want the prime minister who ran a failed war to accept his responsibility. And, in this case, the people happen to be right.