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Don't call it a comeback: Really, please don't come back

Ehud Barak isn’t the ‘only hope’ to defeat Netanyahu. He is, however, the most dangerous prime minister Israel has ever had.

Ehud Barak. (Flash90)

Ehud Barak. (Flash90)

It seems Ehud Barak is planning a return to politics: posters have appeared calling on him to “run” (where exactly is unclear), and now even Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy reluctantly voiced the opinion that for all his faults, Barak is “the only hope” to defeat Netanyahu because he is “so much more brilliant than his politician peers.” But before the buildup of yet another great white hope commences, a reminder might be in order.

Barak was arguably the worst prime minister in Israeli history (though Olmert gives him a run for his money). He is by far the most dangerous one: Barak comprehensively destroyed the very notion of a diplomatic track with the Palestinians by burning it out at Camp David, he fanned the flames of the Second Intifada until it went from localized demonstrations into full-fledged civil war, and he manage to screw up even the only commendable decision he ever took, which was to end the Israeli occupation of South Lebanon.

The IDF never should have invaded Lebanon in the first place, and it never should have stayed a day after the first ceasefire. But of all the ways in which IDF could have left Lebanon, Barak chose the worst. At the very least he could have included a prisoner exchange in the withdrawal, ending the misery of hundreds of families and depriving Hezbollah of one of its main military goals, including the immediate casus belli of the Second Lebanon War. At the most the withdrawal could have been part of a broader peace agreement, with Hezbollah, Lebanon, or Syria, or, indeed, all three.

But Barak didn’t have time for that, not to mention the patience for actually negotiating with powerful Arab enemies. The idea that you can just walk away from a disaster you created and throw away the keys has continued to animate Israeli unilateralism, from the Gaza “disengagement” to various retired generals’ last-ditch ideas about the West Bank.

Barak spent the rest of his career alternating between legitimizing whatever the Right was doing (he never met state violence he didn’t like), and getting filthy rich off of his intimate expertise in killing people. The bookend to this was his catastrophic last tenure as defense minister, in which he was the number one proponent of bombing Iran, even more so than Netanyahu. This is perhaps the main difference between the two: Netanyahu talks crazy, and only occasionally gets pulled and pushed into acting crazy. Barak is crazy, and doesn’t need anyone’s encouragement to start a war — up to and including a regional one. And I suspect this is why he is running.

The next administration, whether Clinton’s or Trump’s, will be the most hawkish one since that of George W. Bush. Ariel Sharon, who was Barak’s friend and mentor, used Bush to radically redraw the boundaries of what Israel could and couldn’t do, as well as recasting Israel’s role in the region and its interaction with the Western world. There may well be an opportunity for an ambitious enough Israeli prime minister to attempt the same under the next president (whether hawkishly pro-Israel like Clinton or indifferent abroad and populist at home, like Trump).

U.S. President George W. Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon at the White House. (White House Photo/Paul Morse)

U.S. President George W. Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon at the White House. (White House Photo/Paul Morse)

Because Barak is not merely ambitious but a megalomaniac on a scale unseen in Israel before or since, he would almost certainly attempt to use this opportunity on a mind-numbing scale and in some spectacularly violent and suicidal fashion, like bombing Iran after all. Or leading Israel into the Syria quagmire on the pretext of routing Hezbollah from the Golan Heights. Or unilaterally withdrawing from parts of the West Bank and turning them into smaller versions of Gaza. Or all three at the same time.

Luckily Barak is still the most despised politician in Israel. The last time he was set to run he wasn’t even certain to make it past the electoral threshold. So unless Netanyahu messes up royally — or gets pulled down in an internal Likud strife — a Barak victory is spectacularly unlikely. Yet it is still depressing to see people who should know better bestir themselves to proclaim, for the millionth time, that “Barak is the only hope” to unseat Netanyahu (I’m looking at you, Gideon Levy). On that level, whatever Barak does, he we will always be part of the same “tribe” — white, educated, wealthy but with socialist roots. His supporters believe that after seven years of Netanyahu, things couldn’t get any worse.

But they can, and I hope for their consciences’ sake that the support they’re lending the generalissimo will do nothing to crack the unbroken pattern of electoral failures Barak has maintained for 16 years straight.

A version of this article appears in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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    1. R5

      So basically Barak is the world PM ever because he happened to be there when the Palestinians rejected statehood. And the euphemism for this is “burning [the diplomatic track] out.” Based on your bio Dimi it looks like the Europeans are paying you for the time being, but I still think you can afford to be a little more balanced than this.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Ben

      “Years later Barak’s top advisors would come to lament the role they played in creating that spin. As Peter Beinart notes in his book, The Crisis of Zionism, Barak aide Tal Ziberstein admitted that the “no-partner” campaign was one of the things he regretted most. Eldad Yaniv, Barak’s former campaign adviser and well known politico who has worked closely with politicians of all stripes added: “Ten years later, there are still people who say, ‘We gave them everything at Camp David and got nothing.’ That is a flagrant lie… I was one of the people behind this false and miserable spin.”

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    3. Ben

      ‘”Israel has offered the Palestinians everything but they have turned down every offer and walked away.” Those making this statement go on to say that at Camp David prime minister Ehud Barak offered Yasser Arafat the whole shop, but Arafat was not interested in making peace. Arafat refused to give up the right of return and was not interested in a Palestinian state. The truth is that at Camp David Barak offered Arafat 89 percent of the West Bank with full Israeli control of Palestine’s external borders – the Palestinians called it a sovereign cage. Barak’s proposal included two east-west corridors under full Israeli control, cutting the West Bank into three cantons. Barak did not offer the Palestinians a capital in east Jerusalem, but in Abu Dis, which is outside of Jerusalem, and perhaps some control of the outlying Palestinian neighborhoods. Israel would continue to control all of the main Palestinian neighborhoods in east Jerusalem and the Old City. Barak demanded a place for Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount, which is what led directly to the failure of Camp David. On the issue of refugees, a total of six hours of talks took place in two weeks, during which time Arafat said that there had to be a solution for the refugees and that he could not give up the right of return on behalf of the refugees. This was the essence of Barak’s “take it or leave it proposal.” There isn’t a Palestinian alive who could accept it.’


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    4. i_like-ike52

      Agree with much of what you say, although from a completely different direction. Barak certainly was one of the worst prime ministers in history. A very arrogant man, he broke all his campaign promises and led Israel into its worst period of terrorism the country ever faced. He attempted to give away Jerusalem and other parts of the country to Arafat with a coalition that represented no more than 1/4 of the Knesset.
      I recall before the 1999 election which he won, he put out a biography of himself (“Israel’s most decorated soldier”), but the Russian edition had a different cover which had him in his IDF uniform with all the decorations he supposedly won for heriosm. The thinking was that Russian Jews love “tough generals’ and that they would mistakenly think that being a “big, tough general” he would be good for national security. He even claimed he had a group of IIRC 9 former generals as an advisory committee to help him with security. Of course, his and their real job as generals was to try to convince the public that there was NOT possible to have security and that there was no solution to terrorism except capitulation to the terrorists. The public quickly grew tired of this failure as a leader and chucked him out in favor of another burned-out old general, Sharon, who lead Israel to even more terrorism and unilateral capitulations to the terrorists.
      I hope Israelis have learned the lesson of not relying on these burned-out, failed generals and will reject any attempt by the failed politician Barak to return to plague the country once again.

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    5. i_like-ike52

      Olmert offered Abbas a lot more. including de-facto control of the Western Wall and the other Jewish holy places under the phony title of “international control” in addition to recognition in principle of the “right of return” of the Palestinian refugees yet there is still no peace and there is still no partner, so Barak, with all his faults, can not be blamed for supposedly “inventing” the idea there is no partner, because there isn’t one. Neither Arafat nor Abbas has ever even made a counter-offer which both Clinton and Obama tried to elicit from them.

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    6. Ben

      Ike: The stories Israelis tell themselves are fascinating. This spin of yours is pure invention. It flies in the face of everything factual that we know. What happened between Olmert and Abbas is laid out by Baskin in the article I linked to. In no way does your account square with it. Or with the subsequent abuse of Abbas by Sharon. You cannot just make stuff up. Well, you can. It seems to be the Israeli Right’s main technique. Perhaps they even believe the stuff they invent. But that doesn’t make it true.

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    7. AJew

      At Camp David, Barak offered far reaching concessions which no Israeli leader before him offered.

      On another thread about Israeli Generals, Ben praised Barak with the following words:

      “It is really striking how the right worships the IDF right up until the point where the IDF leadership actually challenges their world view, and then all of a sudden the generals are all full of it. And not even patriots! Mercenaries! Realize you are saying that Ehud Barak is incapable of being an Israeli patriot and at the same time understanding that Palestinian patriots exist too”

      In other words, Ben admits that Barak displayed empathy with Arab patriots. Yet those Arab patriots (Arafat) have not shown similar empathy to Israeli concerns. They made no concessions whatsoever. But Ben blames Barak for the failure of the Camp David peace talks he refuses to lay even a bit of the the blame at the feet of the “Arab Patriots”.

      What is that if not fanatic and unconditional support of the Arab’s cause at the expense of Israel?

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    8. Ben

      “Ben praised Barak”


      “In other words…”


      Barak showed a capacity for tactical empathy once upon a time when he admitted that if he were a Palestinian of a certain age he would have joined the Palestinian resistance. Barak showed a practical failure of tactical empathy (but clear empathy for his own selfish electoral maneuvers against Sharon back in Israel) when he offered the Palestinians the “take it or leave it” proposal Gershon Baskin details in the article I link to above. Even Barak’s own campaign aides confessed that what you are asserting, that “they made no concessions whatsoever,” is “a flagrant lie.” So you, AJew, are talking through your hat.

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      • AJew

        And Ben just keeps on rolling on.

        I said the Arabs made no concessions whatsoever at Camp David and Barak made more concessions than any Israeli leader before him. Ben just ignores that. It is like water off a duck’s back for Ben because Ben is a fanatic supporter of the Arab narrative. He only brings up “leftist Israeli Generals with empathy” when he wants to knock Israeli right wingers. Ben is a true fanatic.

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    9. LayLow Studios OreWa Media Discussion List

      “Barak spent the rest of his career alternating between legitimizing whatever the Right was doing (he never met state violence he didn’t like), and getting filthy rich off of his intimate expertise in killing people. The bookend to this was his catastrophic last tenure as defense minister, in which he was the number one proponent of bombing Iran, even more so than Netanyahu. This is perhaps the main difference between the two: Netanyahu talks crazy, and only occasionally gets pulled and pushed into acting crazy. Barak is crazy,”

      I do not see any comments questioning the “getting filthy rich off of his intimate expertise in killing people” statement. I am aware of some of Barak’s spectacular commando ops, but was not aware he was privileged to SIBAT permit to sell his expertise in the Global Security or Mercenary market-place. Or, was he leveraging that for financial gain within Israel, and if so, can you cite some source that I could follow-up on. Most of the critiques of Barak’s political and tactical policy failures jibe with conclusions I’ve drawn from my own research of a wide spectrum of opinion. I am surprised to find here the elevation of Barak as threat to the nation beyond Bibi, largely because I’ve corroborated the degree to which INSTITUTIONAL CORRUPTION has exceeded critical mass in Bibi’s Neo-Liberal privileging of private interests over the Public Interest. So, to learn more about Barak’s own personal wealth-accumulation would help me round out a fuller picture of the perennial candidate’s flaws. Is the rest of his party apparatus beholden, or how does he command the ability to top their ticket?


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    10. Ben

      I’m not ignoring anything. The sleight of hand you’re trying to pull is to style Barak’s unacceptable “take it or leave it” proposal–coldly calculated ahead of time to set up Barak’s “no partner” narrative and electoral strategy–as a “concession.” It was nothing of the sort. When Olmert actually offered something substantive, Abbas made concessions aplenty. The lie that Abbas was no partner and compromised on nothing with Olmert is exposed in convincing detail by Bernard Avishai here:

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    11. Ben

      The sick, AIPAC-forced absurdity, the counter-strategic charade that is the US-Israel relationship, is described here by Peter Beinart:

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    12. AJew

      Barak at least made an offer. A better offer than the darling of the left, Rabin. Arafat on the other hand made no offer. He conceded nothing. He made no concessions.

      As for Abbas? You want sleight of hand? He made no concessions either. We only have to heed Erekat’s (his chief “peace negotiator) vehement denial of the contents of the leaked Palestine papers.

      Abbas is just a refined version of Arafat. He is an Arafat in a suit. He strung Olmert along instead of agreeing to Olmert’s already generous offer. Even according to Ben’s reference, Abbas was waiting for the Obama administration to come in and exert more pressure on Israel and wring out even more concessions. But he miscalculated. As Olmert said, not even in 50 years will the Arabs receive a better offer than what Olmert already offered.

      Over and out. No use arguing with a fanatic like Ben.

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    13. Ben

      Abbas didn’t miscalculate at all. He did what both the U.S. and Tzipi Livni advised him to do. If you regard a Palestinian leader insisting on Israel withdrawing from Ariel to be an unreasonable “concession” to be “wrung out” of Israel, if you dismiss it as not something any credible Palestinian leader would, and will, absolutely have to insist on, then you’re on the far reaches of the right wing. Labeling me “a fanatic” is the maneuver Dahlia Scheindlin identifies: crowing in fake outrage about “left-wing extremism”:

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    14. Ben

      “Abbas is just a refined version of Arafat. He is an Arafat in a suit.”

      Oh how the right wing misses Arafat. They especially loathe Abbas precisely because, for all his many imperfections, he is a vis a vis the Israelis a reasonable man, a compromiser, a peace maker, their faithful security contractor, committed to a nonviolent solution. (Read Avishai.) They hate that. This is why they reserve their greatest venom for the hapless Abbas.

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    15. Lewis from Afula

      “Abbas is a reasonable man” says Ben.
      Yes, the reasonable man whose PhD thesis tells the Holocaust never happened.

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    16. Lewis from Afula

      The Great Barak was such a looser that even Leftists hate him !!

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    17. i_like_ike52

      “Abbas a peacemaker”? Is that meant as some sort of joke? What has he done to advance peace? He has called on Palestinians to kill every Jew, “who all have filthy feet” according to him, they can get their hands on. He is a terrorist who wears a suit. You are always whining that that the Israelis don’t do enough for peace. Well, what has he done to convince Israelis he truly wants to make peace? Even Obama told him that his demand for a complete settlement freeze before negotiations take place is irrational because in the event of an agreement the settlements will go anyway. He doesn’t want peace, he doesn’t want negotiations, he is a terrorist no less than Arafat was. He is an enemy of the Palestinian people because he views them as cannon fodder for his own dreams of glory of fighting Israel, albeit with a little more subtly than Arafat did.

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    18. Ben

      Cherry pick your quotes out of context as you wish (the sheer delight with which outfits like Arutz Sheva reported that quote, and the lack of context they supplied, is telling) you know he is very different than Arafat and you and the Israeli leadership know you *could* make peace with him along API lines (and yes with symbolic RoR numbers only) — again, read Avishai — but you don’t want to let go of your grip on the land — and so you loathe Abbas most of all. It’s quite apparent in the venom that the settler Lieberman reserves for the hapless Abbas. Lieberman clearly prefers a scruffy guy in a keffiyeh wearing pearl handled pistols on his belt and banging his shoe on a UN podium. Lewis clearly pines for the good old days of a Soviet-backed holocaust denying tract writer because it wipes out 40 years of the man’s clear evolution. I know what you guys prefer. Now for some context (we wouldn’t want that, would we fellas?):

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