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Not This Barack, That Barak

Ehud Barak has served in just about every post to which an Israeli might aspire. That is, he is--along with an intimate friend--the most highly decorated soldier in the country's history and then has served as chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, minister of defense and prime minister, besides. He has laurels enough for any person. And any position he holds now is a demotion and, if it were vanity that counted, a blow to his very vanity.

He is the leader of the Labor Party which came in fourth in the recent Knesset elections. That was not a triumph, either for the party itself or, for that matter, for Barak. But this defeat was following a trajectory of 32 years of decline. One aspect of this was its faux socialism: it flew the red flag and sang the "Internationale" long past the time that the cause was either honorable or plausible. At least, Barak gave the party credibility in the country's defense and the country's modernity. He was expected to lose his internecine party struggle with the class war stalwarts who were strenuously opposed to joining Benjamin Netanyahu's government. Barak and the modernizers won the battle to become part of Bibi's coalition, and it was not just a battle for cabinet ministries.

Barak's presence in the government as defense minister means a new balance to Netanyahu's tenure, and it was a balance that Bibi very much desired. He paid "extra" in cabinet seats to get Labor to join, and this will put Avigdor Lieberman very much on the defensive. This development doesn't quite satisfy me. But it placates me, as it placates other centrist Netanyahu supporters.

Barak's being defense minister means that the idea of a two-state solution will still be the operational goal of the government, as it was with Ehud Olmert. But this goal does not depend only on a map, however generous; and it can't be too generous. It depends on the Palestinian will to forfeit the century-long aspiration to somehow smother the Jewish achievement in the Land. Only when the Palestinians give up that aim will they be able to focus truly on themselves. Everybody knows what that means though very few are willing to say it.