Jan 25th 2011

Ehud Barak Betrayed his Party and the Nation

by Alon Ben-Meir

A noted journalist and author, Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is professor of international relations and Middle East studies at the Center for Global Affairs at New York University. Ben-Meir holds a masters degree in philosophy and a doctorate in international relations from Oxford University. His exceptional knowledge and insight, the result of more than 20 years of direct involvement in foreign affairs, with a focus on the Middle East, has allowed Dr. Ben-Meir to offer a uniquely invaluable perspective on the nature of world terrorism, conflict resolution and international negotiations. Fluent in Arabic and Hebrew, Ben-Meir's frequent travels to the Middle East and meetings with highly placed officials and academics in many Middle Eastern countries including Egypt, Israel, Jordan, the Palestinian territories, Syria and Turkey provide him with an exceptionally nuanced level of awareness and insight into the developments surrounding breaking news. Ben-Meir often articulates

Ehud Barak's bolt from the Labor Party in order to remain in the governing coalition has solidified his role as Benjamin Netanyahu's enabler. For two years, Barak has led the Labor Party to irrelevance while facilitating the right-wing policies of the government led by Prime Minister Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Throughout this time, Barak said that his staying in the government was in the interests of national security. In truth, his position in the government has served to undermine Israel's national security. His latest move suggests that he will continue to do so. Far from supporting Israel's "Independence," as the name of Barak's new political movement suggests, the continued irresponsible behavior of Israel's Defense Minister will only further intensify Israel's isolation.

The assumption that Barak joined the governing coalition to moderate its policies has proven to be false. Upon joining the government in March 2009, Barak told his party, "I am not afraid of Binyamin Netanyahu. We will not serve as anyone's fig leaf. We will ensure there will not be a narrow right-wing government, but a real government that looks after the State of Israel." If only this were true. Instead, Barak has been party to a government that has created friction with allies like Turkey and the US, become hostage to settlers and rightwing initiatives, pursued loyalty oaths to discredit Israeli Arabs and McCarthy-like witch-hunts of left-wing peace activists and humanitarian watchdog groups-all while the peace process has ground to a halt. The United States believed in Barak, but as Ha'aretz recently reported, it no longer does. One Israeli official told the newspaper that a U.S. official outlined the White House's frustration with Barak clearly. "The entire administration bet on Barak because he said he could nudge Netanyahu toward an agreement with the Palestinians, but he deceived us and led us down the garden path," the Israeli official paraphrased. "We lost our hope in this coalition. We simply have no more expectations." Instead of leaving the Netanyahu government on principle, based on its failed and even deranged policies, Barak has doubled-down, and the Israel-United States relationship is likely to suffer as a result.

Barak undermined the Labor party, brought it to its knees, and now, much to the relief of its remaining members, has left it. The founding party of Israel is merely a fragment of its former self-and it has Ehud Barak to blame. Since the collapse of the Oslo Accords at Camp David, Barak has been insistent that only he could bring Israel peace and security. But his delusions of grandeur have derailed a once strong and vibrant political party, and along with it, the influence of its political platform of peace with security. But as Labor members like Isaac Herzog, Benjamin Ben Eliezer and Avishay Braverman pick up the pieces of what remains of the Labor party, they can take solace in the fact that Barak will no longer have their party hostage in a government pursuing policies that are antithetical to their principles. "The Labor Party, which founded the State of Israel, got rid of the hump on its back," Herzog told reporters after Barak's move. "Ehud Barak's masked ball is over."

Barak has all along claimed that he serves as a shield of Israel's national security concerns. But Israel's security is more threatened today than ever before, and its relationships with allies frayed. Hezbollah and its patron, Iran, are flexing their muscles in southern Lebanon, Hamas remains a threat in Gaza, the Palestinian Authority is weakened in the West Bank by the ineffectual peace process, and the prospect for Israel-Syria peace remains remote amidst the outlandish comments and behavior of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Israel today is more isolated in the international community than at any time before, its ties in the United States-and even with the American Jewish community-are becoming strained. Is this Ehud Barak's idea of national security? All of these setbacks for the State of Israel can be attributed to Barak's enabling the Netanyahu government to avoid policies that would secure Israel's place among the international community, such as presenting a peace plan of its own. Instead of being ashamed, Barak remains in the limelight, and therefore he is proud. Only the people of Israel-and its allies-are the ones who are ashamed.

For the Palestinians, Barak's latest move is another blow to hopes that the once powerful Labor party might re-emerge as a partner for peace. Like the Americans, the Palestinians had hoped Ehud Barak would serve to moderate the far-right wing nature of Benjamin Netanyahu's government. Instead, Barak has split Labor and become part and parcel of the right-wing establishment. This will add greater fuel to the belief that the Palestinians have no partner on the Israeli side, intensifying the campaign to pass resolutions criticizing and isolating Israel at the United Nations, as well as gain recognition throughout the international community for a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. Rather than convincing the Palestinians that they have no choice but to deal with a stable (yet uncompromising right-wing) Israeli government, as many in the coalition have claimed, Barak's move will likely only nudge the Palestinians toward more unilateral tactics to achieve statehood.

Barak had a choice. He could have left the current government-as I and others have advocated-taking Labor's 13 seats out of the 74 seat coalition, leaving the government vulnerable to collapse. In the process, Israel's government would be comprised of exclusively right-wing members, many of whom are opposed to the concept of land for peace. Doing so would have demonstrated leadership and dedication to core principles-to doing all Israel can to promote peace while ensuring its security and the vibrancy of its democracy. These have been the espoused values of the Labor Party, to which Barak has subscribed since he entered politics in 1995. Taking Labor out of the government would have contrasted a weak, right-wing coalition with 61 seats with a centrist, peace-promoting opposition of 59 seats. But it would have also taken away Barak's belief in his own influence, making him simply part of the opposition led by Kadima's Tzipi Livni. Therefore, Barak did not make this choice. Instead of choosing what is best for the country, Barak, true to form, betrayed both his party and the nation and chose what is best for himself. It is a farce that in his statement announcing his new party Barak said, "The top priority [of this movement] will be first and foremost the state, then the party, and only at the end, us." Today, the new "Independence" party of five seats will remain a fig leaf for the coalition, now at 66 seats, while the remaining members of Labor will join the opposition. In some cases, Labor members may join Kadima. While the government is weaker in number, it has gained strength by removing the cloud that the grumblings within Labor had caused. Sadly, it may have also removed hope for turning the tide against the momentum pulling Israel into isolation.

Ehud Barak is now a national tragedy. A leader who once held such promise has now driven the founding party of the state into the ground. He has cast his lot with Benjamin Netanyahu and a right-wing government that has showed no interest in safeguarding the prospects for peace, nor the principles of Israel's democracy. After Barak's announcement, Netanyahu told reporters, "The whole world knows, and the Palestinians know, that this government will be around for the next few years and that it is with this government that they should negotiate for peace." If Barak can somehow bring this right-wing government to achieve this goal, his actions will be vindicated. But this time, nobody will be fooled into counting on him to provide principled and moral leadership.

*A version of this article was previously published in the Jerusalem Post on 1/21/11, and can be accessed at http://www.jpost.com/Magazine/Opinion/Article.aspx?id=204575

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

May 18th 2021
EXTRACT: "This period in US history could go down as the moment when America’s democratic system for electing a president – the most consequential duty of US citizens – was broken, perhaps for good."
May 16th 2021
EXTRACT: "While reading Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) monumental report “A Threshold Crossed,” I felt a range of emotions. It also left me with one big question. I was deeply impressed by the report’s rigorous scholarship. At the same time, it brought to the surface feelings of anger and profound sadness. It’s an extraordinarily complete study detailing not only the many ways Israel has violated a broad range of Palestinian human rights, but the ideology of racial superiority and entitlement that Israel has used to justify its repression." ..... "My advice to both Israel’s defenders and weak-kneed liberals is​, “Read the damn report.” "
May 16th 2021
EXTRACTS: .... "He transformed a transitioning market economy into a stable statist project that rests on an alliance of his inner circle," ..... "He transformed Russia from a respected member of the international community into a rogue state" .... ". He energized NATO by providing it with the adversary it lacked after the end of the cold war," ..... "He befriended hopelessly corrupt, dysfunctional, and unstable dictatorships..." ..... "He forged a quasi-alliance with China, thereby enhancing Russia’s dependence on the one country that might have reason to appropriate those Russian territories inhabited by Chinese."
May 15th 2021
EXTRACT: "On the face of it, the latest escalation of violence is following the template of all inter-ethnic wars. Muslims observing Ramadan shouted nationalist slogans and clashed with Israeli right-wing groups chanting “Death to the Arabs.” The Israelis haughtily marched with their national flag on Jerusalem Day, marking Israel’s capture in 1967 of East Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, the site of the biblical Second Temple, and of Al-Aqsa, completed in the year 705. Battles in and around the Al-Aqsa compound erupted, with worshipers inside throwing stones at the Israeli police, who responded by firing rubber-tipped bullets and other projectiles, wounding hundreds."
May 13th 2021
"Regardless of how the current and future violent conflicts between Israel and the Palestinians in Jerusalem will end, there will be no Israeli-Palestinian peace unless East Jerusalem becomes the capital of a Palestinian state while the city remains united."
May 7th 2021
EXTRACT: " Would the United States be prepared to risk a catastrophic war with the People’s Republic of China to protect the Republic of China, better known as Taiwan? "
May 5th 2021
EXTRACT: "Human history, ancient and contemporary, is replete with instances of genocide – that is, the effort to eradicate a people, erase their history, denigrate their culture, and destroy their physical presence. Many of these atrocities have been recognized by the victims and other nations who support them. But, with the notable exception of the German acknowledgment of the Holocaust, rarely have the perpetrators of these crimes accepted responsibility and offer recompense "
May 2nd 2021
EXTRACT: "The best way to defend liberal democracy is to practice it at home and abroad with the “courage and self-confidence” that Kennan touted at the dawn of the Cold War. This is also the best way to ensure the survival of our own conception of human freedom. And survive it will."
May 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – Sammy Roth at the LA Times/ Boiling Point Newsletter reports that California’s main power grid was powered for several hours last Saturday by 90% renewables. For just four seconds that day, the grid, which covers 4/5s of the state, reached 94.5% generation by green energy. California is the world’s fifth largest economy. The main grid does not cover Los Angeles County. On the other hand, these figures do not include the electricity generated by the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant, which is not counted as renewable but which is also very low-carbon."
Apr 23rd 2021
EXTRACT: "It is no accident that there has been an economic divergence in Central and Eastern Europe. Those countries that have joined the European Union have improved their economic governance, and GDP has begun to converge with Western Europe. Between 2014 and 2019, Hungary, Poland, and Romania grew at an annual average rate of 3.9%, 4.1%, and 4.7%, respectively. Meanwhile, Belarus and Ukraine experienced minimal growth during this period, and Russia’s economy expanded at an average annual rate of just 0.7%. Though Russia had a higher per capita GDP (in terms of purchasing power parity) than Croatia, Poland, Romania, and Turkey as recently as 2009, all of these countries have since overtaken it. Russians today are shocked to learn that they are worse off than Romanians and Turks. Among EU member states, only Bulgaria is still poorer than Russia. With its close proximity to the EU single market, Russia could have had higher growth if it had pursued sound economic policies. Instead,..... "
Apr 22nd 2021
EXTRACT: "As far as anyone can tell, the US military is not on the verge of an internal breakdown, let alone primed to stage a coup d’état. But few predicted anything like the US Capitol riot before protesters equipped with body armor, stun guns, and zip-ties breached the building. Before the US is blindsided again, its leaders must act resolutely to root out extremism in the military."
Apr 17th 2021
EXTRACT: "The new report on 2020 by the International Renewable Energy Agency reveals that the world’s renewable energy generation capacity increased by an astonishing 10.3% in 2020 despite the global economic slowdown during the coronavirus pandemic." .... "In 2020, the global net increase in renewables was 261 gigawatts (GW). That is the nameplate capacity of some 300 nuclear power plants! There are actually only 440 nuclear power plants in the whole world, with a generation capacity of 390 gigwatts. So let’s just underline this point. The world put in 2/3s as much renewable energy in one year as is produced by all the existing nuclear plants!"
Apr 16th 2021
EXTRACT: "When we examined the development of nations worldwide since 1820, we found that among rich Western countries like the United States, the Netherlands and France, improvements in income, education, safety and health tracked or even outpaced rising gross domestic product for over a century. But in the 1950s, even as economic growth accelerated after World War II, well-being in these countries lagged.
Apr 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "Some presidents indulge in the “Mount Rushmore syndrome” making an obvious effort to achieve greatness. Normally soft-spoken and apparently modest Biden is making his own bid for immortality."
Apr 9th 2021
EXTRACT: "New ways of thinking about the role of government are as important as new priorities. Many commentators have framed Biden’s infrastructure plan as a return to big government. But the package is spread over eight years, will raise public spending by only one percentage point of GDP, and is projected to pay for itself eventually. A boost in public investment in infrastructure, the green transition, and job creation is long overdue."
Apr 7th 2021
EXTRACT: " One can, and perhaps should, take the optimistic view that moral panics in the US blow over; reason will once again prevail. It could be that the Biden era will take the sting out of Trumpism, and the tolerance for which American intellectual life has often been admired will be reinvigorated. This might even happen while the noxious effects of American influence still rage in other countries. For the sake of America and the world, one can only hope it happens soon.  "
Mar 28th 2021
EXTRACT: "By refusing (despite having some good reasons) to end electoral gerrymandering, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., has directly enabled the paralyzing hyper-partisanship that reached its nadir during Donald Trump’s presidency. By striking down all limits on corporate spending on political campaigns in the infamous 2010 Citizens United decision, he has helped to entrench dark money in US politics. And by gutting the 1965 Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder, Roberts has facilitated the racist voter-suppression tactics now being pursued in many Republican-controlled states."
Mar 24th 2021
EXTRACT: "the UK’s tough choices accumulate, and the problems lurking around the corner look menacing. Britain will have to make the best of Brexit. But it will be a long, hard struggle, all the more so with an evasive fabulist in charge."
Mar 15th 2021
EXTRACT: "Over the years, the approach of most American policymakers toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been Israel-centric with near total disregard for the suffering endured by the Palestinian people. The architects of policy in successive US administrations have discussed the conflict as if the fate of only one party (Israel) really mattered. Israelis were treated as full human beings with hopes and fears, while Palestinians were reduced to a problem that needed to be solved so that Israelis could live in peace and security.  ..... It is not just that Israelis and Palestinians haven’t been viewed with an equal measure of concern. It’s worse than that. It appears that Palestinians were judged as less ​human than Israelis, and were, therefore, not entitled to make demands to have their rights recognized and protected."
Mar 8th 2021
EXTRACTS: "XThere’s a global shortage in semiconductors, and it’s becoming increasingly serious." ...... "The automotive sector has been worst affected by the drought, in an era where microchips now form the backbone of most cars. Ford is predicting a 20% slump in production and Tesla shut down its model 3 assembly line for two weeks. In the UK, Honda was forced to temporarily shut its plant as well." ..... " As much as 70% of the world’s semiconductors are manufactured by just two companies, Taiwan Semiconductor (TSMC) and Samsung."