Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Will Ehud Barak Put Israel on the Road to Real Land-for-Peace with Palestine?

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Will Ehud Barak Put Israel on the Road to Real Land-for-Peace with Palestine?

Article excerpt

Will Ehud Barak Put Israel on the Road to Real Land-for-Peace With Palestine? Barak's Search For Consensus Must Not Lead Him to Wrap a Failed Policy in A New Package And Call It Progress

In any contest, whether it be political or military, one must keep in mind the price he is willing to pay in order to attain a goal. When a navy combat pilot is catapulted into battle off a carrier at sea, aside from striking the enemy, he must watch his fuel gauge, making sure he does not go beyond the point of no rerum. In politics as in war, that point is occasionally crossed, bringing endless misery and hardship to nations.

When the Israelis went to the polls on May 17, they were determined to kick Binyamin Netanyahu out of office. The players in this election were so deeply involved in attaining that single goal, however, that they may have miscalculated their ability to return.

In fewer than four years Netanyahu managed to fragment Israeli society, radicalizing it to such an extent that trying to put this oversized egg together again may bring about an even greater disaster. Even out of office Netanyahu's curse may linger.

For years the Israeli political scene was split between right and left, the so-called peace seekers and the supporters of "Greater Israel" Today, however, in the post-Netanyahu era, it appears that Israel is even more fragmented. Battle lines are drawn between rich and poor, newcomers and oldtimers. Sephardi and Ashkenazi and religious and secular. And the splits have deepened and spawned poisonous hatred.

Any free and pluralistic society is divided along various lines, but in a healthy body politic they are regarded as enhancing a people and adding texture to a nation. In Israel, however, the thirst for power, the struggle over limited resources, and an inherent intolerance for anything that is different has turned every variation into a barricade to community.

Now to head this fractured nation, a new prime minister, Ehud Barak, has been elected. The most decorated soldier in the history of the Israel Defense Forces has won by what can only be regarded in Israeli terms as a landslide. He has done so promising to heal the scars of division in the country, withdraw from Lebanon within one year, renew peace talks with the Syrians at the point reached before Netanyahu came into office, and to finalize a deal with the Palestinians.

In order to do all this, he must first finalize a government that will be capable of turning his vision into reality. For those accustomed to the workings of the American presidential system, the Israeli way of doing things can be deceptive.

Though the prime minister can choose his ministers and they serve at his pleasure, as is the case in the U.S., for the time being ministers are also members of the Knesset, Israel's par, liament. (Barak also has promised to change this by requesting the upcoming Knesset to initiate a rule that if you are a minister you must resign from the Knesset.)

Thus the members of the cabinet are chosen not on the basis of their ability to serve, but on the power their respective parties command in the Knesset. Even though the race for the prime minister's chair ended up being a contest between only two candidates, the battle for seats in the Knesset was a different game altogether.

Because of the large number of self-serving power groups, each pulling in its own direction, each with a separate agenda, and each with separate moral imperatives, what appears momentarily as a great triumph for Barak can very quickly turn into a bitter and hollow victory. …

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