The comeback kids

Both Barak and Peres, will bring formidable skills to their new positions - skills that we as a nation need badly now.

barak wins 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
barak wins 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
The elections of Ehud Barak and Shimon Peres, as Labor party chairman and president of Israel, respectively, represent remarkable political comebacks on a personal level for each of these leaders. At this somewhat fraught time in our history, we need these leaders to do something ostensibly simple: to do their new jobs well and rehabilitate the institutions they will now lead. Barak, it is assumed, will be appointed defense minister by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Yet Barak has already said Olmert should step down. "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 on May 8. "If he does, it will pave the way for a government Labor can take part in. But if he does not [step down] by May 29, I will work to reach wide consensus in my party and among faction heads on an election date." According to this strange and amorphous formulation, Barak believes that Olmert is not fit to be prime minister, but because Olmert has not reached this conclusion himself, he (like Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni before him) is willing, even eager, to serve in Olmert's government. Barak is thus poised to become a partner to an unstable and largely dysfunctional situation, ostensibly until the Winograd Committee issues the final portion of its report, which is expected to compel Olmert to resign. The Labor Party's presence, under Barak, will prolong the life of a government that is widely viewed to have failed, and whose continued existence serves to postpone the correction of those failures and the tackling of urgent challenges. Though the IDF already has a new chief of General Staff, Gabi Ashkenazi, and much important work to implement the lessons of Second Lebanon War began even under his predecessor, the task of correcting all the serious shortcomings revealed by the war cannot be done by the IDF alone. As a former chief of General Staff, defense minister and prime minister, Barak should have all the necessary tools to reenforce Ashkenazi's back-to-basics agenda. Barak, if he is to remain true to his pledges, must not become too comfortable serving under Olmert. At the same time, what we most certainly do not need right now is a defense minister who spends his time running for prime minister. Barak, it can be presumed, knows that his performance as defense minister will be critical to his political rehabilitation, much as Binyamin Netanyahu's stint as finance minister under Ariel Sharon contributed greatly to his recent comeback from political purgatory to relatively high standings in the polls. Similarly, Shimon Peres has also gained another chance to affect his place in Israeli history. Though he already occupies a unique place in that history, our ninth president has been an extremely controversial figure for decades. It was encouraging, therefore, that in his acceptance speech he openly assured the public that he did not see the presidency as an extension of his career as a decision maker, but rather as a unifier both among the Jewish people and of Israelis of all stripes. We hope that Peres, who was already among the most well known and respected of our citizens in the world, can also contribute greatly to international understanding of the Israeli predicament. Both Barak and Peres, building on their distinguished and divisive records, will bring formidable skills to their new positions - skills that we as a nation need badly now. For their sakes and our own, we look forward to those skills being dedicated, as their high offices require, to defending and unifying the nation.