When Napoleon conquers Acre

If Labor really believes, as its leaders profess, that it should not remain in the government unless there is a serious political process, why is it still there?

Ehud Barak with Robert Gates 311 AP (photo credit: AP)
Ehud Barak with Robert Gates 311 AP
(photo credit: AP)
Every time the Labor Party leaders announce that “we shall leave the government if no progress is made in the political process,” I feel like adding “or when Napoleon conquers Acre” (a line from a song by the Biluyim – a former Israeli rock’n’polka band – referring to Napoleon’s failure to conquer Acre in 1799).
There is currently no progress in the political process (a laundered expression for “peace process”), and at no time since the current Netanyahu government was formed almost two years ago has there been a real political process, as opposed to empty political process rhetoric. Had Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu really set his heart on a political process, he would have formed an alternative coalition made up of the Likud, Kadima, Labor and Habayit Hayehudi (together commanding 71 Knesset seats). But he preferred his current coalition – a perfectly legitimate choice, but not one congenial to progress in the political process.
What we have had in the past year or so have been some statements and gestures by Netanyahu designed to satisfy the Americans, but totally devoid of practical significance, though they did manage to anger the settlers and the more extreme right-wing elements in his own party.
Nevertheless, according to media reports, the Americans initially believed Labor leader Ehud Barak, who reassured them that Netanyahu was serious about the political process. However, they apparently concluded that this was not the case, and are reported to be furious with Barak for allegedly misleading them.
THIS LEADS one to ask whether Barak really believed that Netanyahu was serious about the process to begin with; whether, like Netanyahu, he too is more concerned with gimmicks and tactics than with essence, or whether his only motive is to remain defense minister at any cost.
Being serious about the political process does not mean one is willing to sell the country down the drain for the sake of appeasing the world. Nor does it necessarily require one to seek justice for the Palestinians. It doesn’t even require one to believe the Palestinians are currently capable of reaching a viable peace agreement.
Being serious about the political process means one realizes that time is running out, and that if we do not do our damnedest to ensure that the Palestinian state, once it is established, will be the least harmful to our vital interests and concerns, we are liable to get a unilaterally declared Palestinian state, recognized by the entire world, even though (or even because) it does not take our vital interests and concerns into account.
Worse still, we are liable to convince the Palestinians that their best bet it to strive for our annexation of Judea and Samaria (and perhaps also the Gaza Strip), and then to demand that we turn into a binational state. Many Palestinians, including Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, are apparently willing to consider such an option.
Hopefully the Labor Party (or what remains of it) is still serious about the political process, at least for realpolitik reasons, as was the late Yitzhak Rabin in the early 1990s. But if this is the case, and if Labor really believes, as its leaders profess, that it should not remain in the government unless there is a serious political process, why is it still there?
Why are its ministers issuing statements that the party should leave the government in February, March, April or May, and not immediately? Are they wary of foregoing the perks of office, as the cynics claim, or are they afraid that Netanyahu might survive without them? He most certainly will – perhaps not until November 2013, which is when the next elections should take place, but at least for a while.
Netanyahu was chosen by the president to form a government after the last elections because, unlike Kadima leader Tzipi Livni, whose party received more seats in the Knesset than did the Likud (28 compared with 27), he was able to show that he could form a variety of coalitions, so even if Labor decides to leave, he can still bring the National Union into the government, and form a coalition with 65 Knesset seats.
Labor’s job at the moment is not to pretend to save Netanyahu from his other partners, from whom he doesn’t appear to want to be saved. Nor is it its job to try to save Israel’s image abroad, by presenting its saner and more responsible face. Even if it were – its efforts in this respect are a dismal failure. Labor’s job at the moment is to save itself, if it possibly can, and try to prevent additional defections from its dwindling lines, such as that of MK Daniel Ben-Simon earlier this week. There is no point waiting for Napoleon to conquer Acre.
The writer is a former Knesset employee.