Barak’s maneuver looks like a win-win situation

But while that may be common in business, it is far rarer in politics.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s departure from the Labor Party was portrayed in the media as an earth-shattering event. And it’s true that Israeli politics has experienced no such upheaval since former prime minister Ariel Sharon left the Likud and established Kadima in 2005.
But classic political drama requires both winners and losers. An event with neither tears of defeat nor cries of victory is not so traumatic. And there was no great tragedy here, no historic turning point either.
Paradoxically, this unexpected development left everyone involved feeling rather satisfied. Maybe that’s where its uniqueness lies: When the dust settled on Barak’s surprise announcement, each of the major players felt his position had actually improved.
From Barak’s point of view, the plan he designed and executed achieved all his goals. From now on, until the end of the current government’s term, he, and he alone, controls his own destiny. No one can force him to leave the government and relinquish the defense portfolio that is so dear to his heart. The threat of being ousted from his own Labor Party by the many members who opposed him no longer exists either. The daily, exhausting struggle against rebellious MKs within his party is over. The four members of his new faction are unconditionally committed to him, and their loyalty – as a result, among other factors, of the upgrade they have been granted in the government and Knesset – is guaranteed.
Now Barak can focus solely on the tasks mandated by his ministerial responsibilities – first and foremost of course, the battle against the Iranian nuclear program. When it is time to face the voters again, it may be that Barak finds that the escapade he initiated will prove less successful. But the alternative offered to him by his Labor opponents would, in any case, have ended his tenure as both defense minister and party chairman in the coming months.
THE PRIME minister too has good reason to be satisfied with the way things turned out. At first glance, the mathematic calculations of the crisis that fractured the Labor Party show that the coalition has lost eight members. The gap between supporters of the government and those who would like to see it fall has narrowed significantly, from 28 to 12. But political life, as is well known, cannot be measured solely with mathematical calculations.
On a psychological level, the government can be praised for a trend reversal of unprecedented importance. Since the moratorium on building in the settlements in Judea and Samaria lapsed this past September, an ever-growing question mark had been hovering over Barak’s ability to prevent his party from leaving the coalition. Indeed, many commentators had predicted that Barak himself would lead Labor into opposition, in order to win back at least some of his and the party’s disappointed voters.
Labor’s departure from the government would have quickly brought about early elections. This theoretical possibility was becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy, with other coalition factions becoming more extreme in their conduct almost on a daily basis.
Israel Beiteinu and Shas had embarked on a confrontational path with each other and with the Likud, on a number of sensitive issues. The smell of elections was in the air.
Now, Barak’s strategic decision to remain in the coalition, despite the deep diplomatic freeze, has changed all that at a stroke, and speaks volumes about the life expectancy of the Netanyahu government.
The prime minister was not mouthing platitudes when he declared that the defense minister’s maneuver “contributes to the [government’s] stability and governability.”
In Washington, Europe, Cairo, Amman and Ramallah – and, indeed, in Teheran, Damascus and Gaza – it is now understood that 2011 is not expected to be an election year in Israel.
LIKEWISE, THE leading opposition party has no reason to be disappointed with the recent developments. Tzipi Livni, who in essence forced the majority of senior Kadima members to remain in the opposition, can justifiably claim that her party is finally reaping the benefits of its patience. Livni’s assessment after the elections was that even if Netanyahu were to attempt to advance the diplomatic process, his “natural partners” from the Right would stop him.
This assessment is now gaining credibility, since Barak is now left in a resounding minority within a government all of whose other members are bound to an agenda that is the opposite of his own.
The direct implication of diplomatic deadlock is intensifying diplomatic isolation. The first signs of this isolation are already evident in the widening phenomenon of countries that are unilaterally recognizing the emerging Palestinian state.
The more Israel finds itself in diplomatic isolation, the more Netanyahu’s government will be vulnerable to harsh criticism, from within and without, for its inflexible policies. In light of this, Kadima can mark last week as a week in which it received strong encouragement in its long journey to regain the reins of leadership.
Even the remaining Labor MKs, who were stunned by Barak’s bombshell, can now begin to smile. They have been spared a full year battling in the bunker of the party’s institutions for early internal elections, to oust Barak as chairman and pull Labor out of the government. This new reality, formed overnight, also created an additional opportunity for the Labor party, probably its very last, to prove to all those who eulogize it that it has the ability to rise from the ruins and restore its lost honor.
Can everything possibly pan out the way I’ve described? Probably not. In the business world, a win-win situation is commonplace. In the political world, it is a rare scenario. Not long from now, it will become clear that one of the protagonists involved celebrated too soon.