Regardless of whether the Annapolis conference will help or hinder Israeli-Palestinian peace making, one thing is certain: Labor Party leader Ehud Barak can bask in the glory of knowing that he did his utmost to prevent a successful outcome at Annapolis. Few have forgotten how Barak’s mismanagement of the Camp David negotiations seven years ago resulted in the fall of his short-lived government, the collapse of the peace process, and the onset of a second Palestinian Intifada that cost thousands of lives.
Today, the Defense Minister’s cynical motives are clear: he believes that by creating obstacles to Prime Minister Olmert’s peace efforts, he will somehow refurbish his political and security credentials and coast to victory in the next elections. Yet once again, Barak’s calculations are off. And once again, his actions will come at Israel’s expense.
These days, Labor’s chairman is sounding less like the leader of the peace camp and more like the leader of the opposition. Barak’s Labor Party colleagues were stunned at his reaction to Olmert’s recent suggestion that his government might implement a settlement freeze, to which Israel committed itself – yet never carried out – following its acceptance of the Road Map. “I respect and admire the settlers in the territories…I also admire the settlers in the unauthorized settlement outposts, and there too we are going to have to meet their day-to-day needs,” Barak stated in last week’s cabinet meeting.
A strange turn of events has taken place in Israel. Olmert, the former Likud MK who resisted the 1978 Camp David Accords, is today leading the peace effort. Barak, the prime minister who offered more concessions to the Palestinians than any other Israeli leader before or since, but whose political ineptitude resulted in failure, has, in effect, joined forces with the rejectionist right.
Barak’s game to lead to Bibi victoryUnder Barak’s leadership, the Labor Party, which came in second place in the last elections, is no longer the peace party. It is not clear what, if anything, Labor stands for these days. What is unmistakable, however, is that the dominant voices being heard today are those who oppose the very notion of a peace conference, those who are addicted to the status quo, those who refuse to see that time is running out for a two-state solution – the only viable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Indeed, the implications are ominous.
The threats made to Olmert’s coalition by his right-wing partners, Avigdor Lieberman and Eli Yishai, are being met with seeming indifference by the other coalition members. Minister Ami Ayalon has correctly noted that the Labor Party has “abandoned the arena to Lieberman’s pressures.” Without counter-pressure – at the very least, full backing – from Labor, Olmert will find it difficult, if not impossible, to make real headway with either the Palestinians or the Syrians.
It is unlikely that a failed conference this time around will lead to another Intifada. However, the aftermath of the conference, as it unfolds, may seal the fate of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, two of the most moderate Palestinian leaders that Israel could hope to have as peace partners. It is not inconceivable that the result of such a development would be a Hamas takeover in the West Bank.
In Israel, too, opponents of a two-state solution stand to benefit from a continued stalemate. As irony would have it, Barak’s game will not result in his popular triumph, but rather, in the election of his arch-nemesis, Bibi Netanyahu, whose victory would be the ultimate blow to peace.
Guy Ziv is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Government and Politics at the University of Maryland, specializing in international politics and security. His dissertation focuses on Israeli foreign policy decision-making