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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Why Ehud Barak wanted to join Binyamin Netanyahu's government

The story I didn't cover yesterday (the three Guardian posts took a long time to prepare - sorry) was that the Labor party central committee voted 680-507 that the party should enter the Netanyahu government. The vote was much less close than expected. The parties MK's were closely divided on the issue, but the country and Labor's voters were not. 55% of the general population wanted Ehud Barak to remain defense minister - which was an unlikely prospect unless Labor was in the government - and an overwhelming majority of Labor's voters wanted the party to go into the government.

At Think Progress, Matthew Yglesias is displeased by Labor's decision and believes it foretells the party's demise (Hat Tip: Memeorandum).
Ehud Barak, though, is eager to provide such window-dressing and now he’s got his party’s approval to enter into a coalition in which he’ll play third fiddle to Netanyahu and Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman.

It’s hard to imagine this being anything other than the end for the remnants of the Labor Party. This behavior will give voters no reason whatsoever to back Labor in subsequent elections irrespective of their ideological proclivities. It’s hard to think of other examples of individuals whose leadership has had such a calamitous impact on the political party they headed.
I disagree on both counts (and please bear in mind that I was a proponent of voting for parties to Likud's right in a bid to prevent Netanyahu from forming a 'national unity' government).

Barak is realistic enough to know that there is not going to be peace with the 'Palestinians' in the next four and a half years. Whether one favors or opposes the 'two-state solution' is therefore almost irrelevant. No final decisions are going to be made in the next four and a half years.

What will happen in the next four and a half years is that the groundwork for 'peace' with the 'Palestinians' will or will not be laid and the feasibility of such a 'solution' may or may not be brought closer. As Defense Minister, Barak is in charge of granting approvals for the construction of new Jewish cities and towns in Judea and Samaria. Had he not accepted the position, it would have gone to Moshe ("Boogie") Yaalon, who was effectively fired as IDF chief of staff for opposing the 'disengagement' from Gaza. Yaalon would have been far more likely than Barak to approve the construction of new Jewish cities and towns. Some people believe that Jewish cities and towns in Judea and Samaria are an obstacle to the 'two-state solution.'

Barak got Labor emplaced as a watchdog over every aspect of the Netanyahu government. For thirteen MK's - six of whom may not even join - he got five ministries (one of which is without portfolio), two deputy ministries and one committee chairmanship. That's an awful lot. Labor has a representative in every conceivable government forum. Labor will be in a position to keep Avigdor Lieberman - who will be foreign minister - on a short leash. Lieberman is said not to be pleased. And Labor will be able to advocate for a more government-based approach to the economy than Netanyahu (essentially an American free-marketer) might otherwise adopt. It is because Labor is in the government that the employers and the Histadrut (General Federation of Labor) are going to have regular joint meetings with the Finance Minister (who may yet be a technocrat and not a politician).

Barak and Labor coming into the government has effectively allowed Netanyahu to terminate negotiations with National Union, the only party in the election that openly rejected the creation of a 'Palestinian' state. All of the other parties in the Knesset accept the creation of a 'Palestinian' state under some set of circumstances (at least on paper). National Union, which does not, is now out of the picture.

Finally, Barak was wise enough to see that his party would gain nothing by playing second fiddle to Livni and Kadima in opposition. He and the Labor party will have far more visibility as part of the Netanyahu government than they would as the second biggest party in the opposition. I would bet that Kadima (which - contrary to Livni's insistence - has no ideology) will decline significantly in the next election, while Labor will do as well or better than it did in this one.

I'm not particularly happy about Labor being in the government, but from Barak's and Labor's perspective, it was a smart move.


At 8:01 AM, Blogger NormanF said...

Bibi got the government he wanted all along and Tzipi Livni is now effectively shut out of the picture. The main reason for this quasi "National Unity" government is Iran. Under other circumstances, its unlikely to have come into existence. The other one is the economy. Both sides effectively buried their differences over the "peace process" given that there is no Palestinian partner with whom to negotiate. The ironic twist to the new government is that Tzipi Livni has turned out to be the last true believer in the two-state solution in Israel. And Kadima has now positioned itself as the party to Labor's left! Its going to be a very interesting next few years.

At 8:45 AM, Blogger Eliyahu in Shilo said...

I think Bibi told Ehud, "Hudi, I'm going after Iran and I want you in the chair." We should start a pool on how long this government will last.

At 3:27 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

Eliyahu, yes - its about Iran and if a military option is needed Bibi wants to buy domestic political cover for any military operation that might needed to preempt Iran's nuclear program. That's why he was willing to pay Barak such a stiff price to get it.

At 4:46 PM, Blogger Red Tulips said...

I have mixed opinions about Labor being in the government.

I obviously am not a fan of the Labor government, however, I think unity in the face of the Iranian threat is essential. Should Israel need to strike Iran's nuke facilities, it is absolutely crucial that it be united.


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