Ehud Barak
Photo: Daniel Bar-On, Jini
He had no choice
Barak had no option except for staying in government; will Olmert step up now?
For now, it’s over. As of this morning, the politics, speculations, and endless guesses are going underground again. With one gesture, just like an aching tooth is pulled out, the defense minister did exactly what reality dictated and expected of him: He stayed in the government.


True, it’s unpleasant to sustain the criticism he’s sustaining at this time, but he didn’t really have a choice. Therefore, without too many typical Barak explanations, without sophisticated phrases, and without twisted zigzags, Barak dropped his bomb by the book. Any additional words would make him look worse. Any other shady political deal would have weakened his argument and made him seem more ridiculous.


In the face of the complex reality faced by Israel at this time, Barak doesn’t really need explanations or satellite photos. He also does not need to apologize to anyone. Reality is harsher than any explanation, and so is the Labor chairman’s position in the polls.


With all due respect to the required government stability and with all due respect to the serious security problems, we must not forget that Barak also knows how to read the political map, not only classified intelligence reports. He knows that if he quits and leads the move for new elections, he would send his bitter rival Benjamin Netanyahu back to the Prime Minister’s Office. And that would make for a true political story: The man who did the comeback of the year is back in order to crown the man who he fears most.


And what about the future? What about Barak’s chances to survive the public criticism in the wake of this move? It’s unclear, but Barak is far from being finished. Considering the mad pace of events typical in Israel, it is doubtful whether in about six months anyone would remember his improvised press conference or the earlier pledge he made to bolt the coalition in the wake of the Winograd report.


The Qassams, Hamas, the Iranians, the Syrians, al-Qaeda, and Gilad Shalit – all of them are the guarantee that soon we shall be sinking into new troubles, no less bothersome than one kind of statement or another. Besides, how many alternatives are there anyway?


Shalit deal closer than ever 

But if we put politics aside for a moment, we can say that Barak found the opportunity to rise above the populist screams that sweep the country these days. If one of the Winograd report’s conclusions is that the public and political discourse is horrifically shallow, Barak came and showed that he was able to draw the lessons. He is not being dragged by the desire for revenge by one group or another, and did not subjugate himself to the lost honor of fellow Labor party members Eitan Cabel and Ophir Pines.


Now we should hope that Ehud Olmert too will grasp the enormous opportunity, and the rare and incredible chance he’s been given to prove that he’s not what people say about him. We should hope that as of this very moment, Olmert will start working 25 hours a day in order to ensure that the country is on the right path: The diplomatic path, the rehabilitation path, and the challenging path – the one which a leader should present to his people in order to mark the horizon.


The prime minister’s people are indeed promising that as of today they are back at work, and are preparing us for great surprises. “Stability is back, we’re starting to work, we turned a new leaf,” they said. Diplomatically, say officials at Olmert’s office, we’ll start pushing forward - with the Palestinians too, but on other fronts as well. The name was not uttered explicitly, but the hint in Syria’s direction is clear. And the same is true with the Palestinians, and with Gilad Shalit. Members of the political establishment estimate that a deal that would secure the release of the abducted IDF soldier is closer than ever.


פרסום ראשון: 02.03.08, 17:07
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