Dec 6th 2010

Time for Barak to Depart

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

The Israeli government must still approve the proposed United States-Israeli agreement to freeze settlement construction in the West Bank in exchange for a U.S. offer of three billion worth of military hardware, including stealth fighter jets. If Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu succeeds in obtaining cabinet approval, the parties will have 90 days to focus primarily on reaching an agreement on borders. Only an agreement on borders would enable negotiations to proceed by delineating which of the settlements will be incorporated into Israel proper, and which would not. The resumption of Israeli construction would then be limited to those areas that are considered part of Israel proper. The success or failure of the Obama administration's peacemaking effort hinges on whether or not sufficient progress is made to induce the Palestinian and Israeli leadership to continue with the negotiations beyond the 90-day freeze.

Unfortunately, the likelihood that such an accord will be reached is slim. Any agreement would require major concessions on the part of both sides. However, it is unclear whether the current Israeli government can muster a three-month settlement freeze, albeit in exchange for a compelling American offer, and then agree on a border that relinquishes 95 percent or more of the West Bank. Shas and Israel Beiteinu in particular will object, as will right-wing rebels within the Likud party who are appealing to Shas to oppose rather than abstain from the cabinet vote on the freeze. Shas has stated that it will only abstain if it obtains a letter from the United States ensuring that construction can resume in Jerusalem, and that the freeze would not be renewed on the 91st day. With such coalition partners, it is difficult, if not impossible, to be optimistic about the prospects for genuine movement toward peace at this stage.

Should skeptics, myself included, sadly prove to be correct and efforts to negotiate a border agreement fail, it is clear that the Labor Party led by Defense Minister Ehud Barak must leave the government in an effort to induce a reconfiguration of the Israeli political landscape. Barak has long since lost his luster. He may think of himself as Israel's savior, but he is not. As long as Barak remains in this government he serves as a fig-leaf for a dead-end, right-wing coalition that ideologically opposes making the kind of far-reaching compromises necessary to reach a peace agreement. Of course, Barak has stated that his presence in the government has kept the peace process alive despite the coalition's right-wing majority. A failure to reach a border agreement would expose this fallacy. In fact, Barak has become a liability to the peace process.

A poll two weeks ago by Yedioth Ahronoth indicated that if elections were held today with Barak leading the Labor party, the party would lose eight seats, from the current 13 to a paltry and irrelevant 5. However, if Avishay Braverman led the party, it would receive 14 seats, with Isaac Herzog, 17, and if Gabi Ashkenazi entered politics to lead Labor, it could obtain as many as 23 seats. In a letter from Barak to the Labor Party Steering Committee responding to the surge in calls for him to leave the government and emergence of challengers to his party leadership, he wrote "It would be a tragic mistake to abandon the campaign for peace at this time and to lead Israel into a state of international isolation." However, his continued presence in a government that is decidedly uncommitted to the only viable option of a two-state solution has and will continue to further that isolation, rather than curb it. If he leaves, Netanyahu would be left with a weak right-wing coalition with little military experience and even weaker diplomatic relations with the Americans. In this sense, Barak's exit could be critical to ameliorating the political landscape and to eventually forming a government capable of delivering a peace agreement.

The only way to reverse the trend of isolation and to place the peace process on track toward a two-state solution would be to revamp the current governing coalition. This would require a strengthened core of moderate, capable leadership found in elements of the Likud, Kadima and Labor. Such new leadership in Israel could achieve a number of things that the current government is either not able or willing to undertake.

First, a new government could restore the United States' confidence in its relationship with Israel. The bad chemistry between Obama and Netanyahu may not be reparable-especially following Netanyahu's highly publicized meeting with the new Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, after which Cantor noted he would serve as a "check" against the administration. However, beyond Netanyahu's own behavior, his partners' efforts to oppose the president and his initiatives, let alone promote settlement projects, have significantly damaged confidence between Washington and Jerusalem. The restoration of mutual confidence between the two would provide a new government in Israel with necessary crutch to make concessions for a peace agreement. New leadership in Israel would also strengthen coordination with the United States on a range of critical issues, including Lebanon, Iran and Hamas.

Second, a new Israeli government would restore some of the trust between Israel and the Palestinians, and between Israel and the leading Arab states. Very few Arab leaders believe that the Netanyahu government is capable or willing to make required concessions for a two-state solution. This basic distrust cannot be mitigated without a new government in Israel that is not wed to the settlement movement. Without a marked change in the makeup of the government, it is less likely that states like Saudi Arabia would even consider taking steps to normalize relations with Israel. But a change in Israel could spur a change in Arab attitudes as well.

Third, a new government in Israel would give the international campaign to isolate Israel some respite while relations, especially with the E.U. member states and Turkey, could dramatically improve. Shas' chokehold on progress in the current coalition exemplifies Israel's dilemma. As presently constituted, a limited settlement freeze cannot be pursued unless Shas abstains. The same Shas is led by its spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, whose regular outlandish remarks reached a new low-point recently when he stated in a sermon that non-Jews "were born only to serve us. Without that, they have no place in the world-only to serve the People of Israel." Removing the significant influence that this extreme figure now wields would only help Israel's international relations.

Fourth, a new government could put the Palestinians-and the Arab states that support them-to the test by changing the growing international perception that Israel is the obstacle to peace. Who can blame those who say Israel does not want peace? In fact, just last week Israel's Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told reporters that he does not think Israel should pursue peace with Syria and he remains staunchly opposed to even a very brief settlement freeze in order to improve the prospects for renewed Israeli-Palestinian talks. That Israel may only be able to pass this freeze with significant U.S. incentives-and even then it would pass by the slimmest of margins-further underscores the perception that Israel is not interested in genuine peacemaking. A new government capable of presenting its vision for a two-state solution and acting to achieve it, would force the Palestinians and Arab states back on their heels, demanding that they respond or be held responsible for placing obstacles to peace.

Finally, a revamped coalition could begin to prepare the Israeli public for the eventuality of a two-state solution. The public must be disabused of the notion of the tie between Israel's national security and its occupation of Palestinian land. The current government has reinforced this notion at great cost to the prospects of a lasting and viable two-state solution. What is needed are honest and experienced leaders who can provide Israel with leadership in both the diplomatic and security realms, while laying the groundwork for a peace agreement that would ensure, not detract from Israel's national security.

The choice to change the current government ultimately lies with Prime Minister Netanyahu. The catalyst for change, however, should be Ehud Barak. He must recognize that by resigning from the government-and his leadership of the Labor party-he could set in motion a political realignment that could create a path toward the peace agreement that he purports to seek for Israel. To do so, he must be the first to place Israel's interest above his personal ego and political ambition, and in turn force Netanyahu to follow his lead.

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Dec 14th 2019
EXTRACT: "Conspiracy theories about sinister Jewish power have a long history. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a Russian forgery published in 1903, popularized the notion that Jewish bankers and financiers were secretly pulling the strings to dominate the world. Henry Ford was one of the more prominent people who believed this nonsense."
Dec 13th 2019
EXTRACT: "In previous British elections, to say that trust was the main issue would have meant simply that trust is the trump card – whichever leader or party could secure most trust would win. Now, the emerging question about trust is whether it even matters anymore."
Dec 5th 2019
EXTRACT: "Europe must fend for itself for the first time since the end of World War II. Yet after so many years of strategic dependence the US, Europe is unprepared – not just materially but psychologically – for today’s harsh geopolitical realities. Nowhere is this truer than in Germany."
Nov 23rd 2019
Extdact: "The kind of gratitude expressed by Vindman and my grandfather is not something that would naturally occur to a person who can take his or her nationality for granted, or whose nationality is beyond questioning by others. Some who have never felt the sharp end of discrimination might even find it mildly offensive. Why should anyone be grateful for belonging to a particular nation? Pride, perhaps, but gratitude? In fact, patriotism based on gratitude might be the strongest form there is."
Nov 20th 2019
Extract: "Moody’s, one of the big three credit rating agencies, is not upbeat about the prospects for the world’s debt in 2020 – to put it mildly. If we were to try to capture the agency’s view of where we are heading on a palette of colours, we would be pointing at black – pitch black."
Nov 17th 2019
Extract: "Digital money is already a key battleground in finance, with technology firms, payment processing companies, and banks all vying to become the gateway into the burgeoning platform-based economy. The prizes that await the winners could be huge. In China, Alipay and WeChat Pay already control more than 90% of all mobile payments. And in the last three years, the four largest listed payment firms – Visa, Mastercard, Amex, and PayPal – have increased in value by more than the FAANGs (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, and Google)."
Nov 14th 2019
Extract: "Trump, who understands almost nothing about governing, made a major mistake in attacking career public officials from the outset of his presidency. He underestimated – or just couldn’t fathom – the honor of people who could earn more in the private sector but believe in public service. And he made matters worse for himself as well as for the government by creating a shadow group – headed by the strangely out-of-control Rudy Giuliani, once a much-admired mayor of New York City, and now a freelance troublemaker serving as Trump’s personal attorney – to impose the president’s Ukraine policy over that of “the bureaucrats.” "
Nov 4th 2019
Extract: "Trump displays repeated and persistent behaviours consistent with narcissistic personality disorder and antisocial personality disorder. These behaviours include craving for adulation, lack of empathy, aggression and vindictiveness towards opponents, addiction to lying, and blatant disregard for rules and conventions, among others." The concern is that leaders with these two disorders may be incapable of putting the interests of the country ahead of their own personal interests. Their compulsive lying may make rational action impossible and their impulsiveness may make them incapable of the forethought and planning necessary to lead the country. They lack empathy and are often motivated by rage and revenge, and could make quick decisions that could have profoundly dangerous consequences for democracy.
Oct 31st 2019
EXTRACT: "......let’s see what happens when we have less money for all the things we want to do as a country and as individuals. Promises and predictions regarding Brexit will soon be tested against reality. When they are, I wouldn’t want to be one of Johnson’s Brexiteers."
Oct 21st 2019
EXTRACT: "Were Israel to be attacked with the same precision and sophistication as the strike on Saudi Arabia, the Middle East would be plunged into war on a scale beyond anything it has experienced so far. Sadly (but happily for Russian President Vladimir Putin), that is the reality of a world in which the US has abandoned any pretense of global leadership."
Oct 20th 2019
EXTRACT: "Europe also stands to lose from Trump’s abandonment of the Kurds. If, in the ongoing chaos, the thousands of ISIS prisoners held by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces escape – as some already have – America’s estranged European allies will suffer. Yet Trump is unconcerned. “Well, they are going to be escaping to Europe, that’s where they want to go,” he remarked casually at a press conference. “They want to go back to their homes." "
Oct 15th 2019
EXTRACT: "Assuming the House ultimately votes to impeach Trump, the fact remains that there are far fewer votes in the Senate than will be needed to convict him and remove him from office. But the willingness of Congress – including the Senate – to continue tolerating his dangerous conduct in office, including threats to US national security, is now truly in question."
Oct 7th 2019
EXTRACT: "The problem didn't start with the election of Donald Trump. Nor did it begin with the Democrats launching an impeachment inquiry against Trump. This is a developing crisis that has been growing like a cancer within our polity for at least the past 25 years. Its main symptoms are a lack of civility in our political discourse, a "take no prisoners" mindset, and a denial of the very legitimacy of "the other side." Trump didn't create this crisis; he was the result of it.   When Newt Gingrich took the helm of Congress in 1995, unlike previous Republican leaders, he embarked on a campaign not only to obstruct the efforts of then President Clinton, but to destroy him. Congress launched a series of investigations accusing Clinton of everything from corruption to obstruction of justice – with hints of even more nefarious plots to assassinate those who might pose a problem to his presidency.  "
Oct 4th 2019
EXTRACT: "As the story spreads, it grows darker. Meanwhile, Trump is trying to learn the identity of the whistleblower (who is protected by law), which could expose that person to great danger. And he is accusing some people – including Adam Schiff, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee – of treason. My sense is that Trump fears the tough, focused Schiff. Trump has ominously noted that traitors used to be shot or hanged. And he hasn’t helped himself with members of either party by declaring, in one of his hundreds of febrile tweets, that forcing him from office could lead to a “civil war.” Trump has taken the United States somewhere it’s never been before. His presidency may not survive it."
Sep 24th 2019
EXTRACT: "But regardless of whether the Ukraine scandal remains front-page news, it will haunt the US intelligence community, which has been Trump’s bête noire since the day he took office. Trump has relentlessly attacked US intelligence agencies, cozied up to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and divulged secrets to foreign officials, potentially burning high-value sources. This behavior had already raised serious concerns about whether Trump can be trusted to receive sensitive intelligence at all. Now, intelligence leaders must ask themselves how far they are willing to go in toeing the White House line."
Sep 21st 2019
EXTRACT: "As Lobaczewski pointed out, pathological leaders tend to attract other people with psychological disorders. At the same time, empathetic and fair-minded people gradually fall away. They are either ostracised or step aside voluntarily, appalled by the growing pathology around them.......As a result, over time pathocracies become more entrenched and extreme. You can see this process in the Nazi takeover of the German government in the 1930s, when Germany moved from democracy to pathocracy in less than two years.......In the US, there has clearly been a movement towards pathocracy under Trump. As Lobaczewski’s theory predicts, the old guard of more moderate White House officials – the “adults in the room” – has fallen away. The president is now surrounded by individuals who share his authoritarian tendencies and lack of empathy and morality. Fortunately, to some extent, the democratic institutions of the US have managed to provide some push back."
Sep 16th 2019
EXTRACT: "If the Supreme Court does agree with the Divisional Court that the question is political rather than legal, it will take the UK constitution into quite peculiar territory. Prime ministers will be the new kings and queens. They will be free to suspend parliament at will, and for as long as they wish, without any judicial interference. Parliament will meet not out of constitutional necessity but in the service of the government’s interests – namely, to pass its legislation and to maintain appearances, rather than to hold it to account."
Sep 12th 2019
Extract: "The Republican Party has lashed its fate to an increasingly unhinged leader. Though three other presidential hopefuls for 2020 now stand in Trump’s way, none can defeat him. But they can damage his reelection effort, which is why the Republican Party has been scrapping some primaries and caucuses. How well Trump does in November next year may well depend on how his fragile ego withstands the coming months."
Sep 2nd 2019
EXTRACTS: "Most people think of revolutions as sudden earthquakes or volcanic eruptions that come without warning and sweep away an entire political system. But historians, political scientists, and even the odd politician know that the reality is very different: revolutions happen when systems hollow themselves out, or simply rot from within. Revolutionaries can then brush aside established norms of behavior, or even of truth, as trivialities that should not impede the popular will............ Only time will tell whether we are currently witnessing the hollowing out of British democracy. But Prime Minister Boris Johnson may well have crossed some invisible Rubicon by.......... Whatever happens now, British parliamentary democracy may never be the same again. It will certainly never again be the model that so many people around the world once admired."
Aug 29th 2019
EXTRACT: "Events such as prorogations and dissolutions happen when countries face difficult times. Therefore, because of the disastrous effects of Brexit: sterling in freefall; a recession looming on the horizon and Britain’s international standing at its lowest ebb since Suez, it is no surprise that the country is in this position now. The worrying thing is that using the monarchical power of prorogation does not solve problems – it has a history of turning them into frightening and often violent crises. There is a worrying relationship between the use of such powers and a complete breakdown in government."