Thursday, January 08, 2009

Israel's Colin Powell

A decade ago, I hoped current Israeli Defense Minister and former Prime Minister Ehud Barak would be the next Yitzhak Rabin. Sadly, Barak has morphed into Israel's Colin Powell instead. Today's New York Times profile of Barak's rising political fortunes is a sad commentary about Israel's body politic and Barak himself.

A decade ago I respected Barak and believed him to be Yitzak Rabin’s natural heir. His mentor Rabin was a soldier statesman who bled for Israel's self-preservation from day one but later took personal risks for peace. During the 1980s, Rabin served as Defense Minister in the Labor/Likud coalition government and implemented a "broken bones" policy to put down the first Palestinian Infitada. Rabin though was not comfortable strategically or morally with Israel as an occupying power and he later collaborated with his onetime Labor Party rival Shimon Peres to facilitate the Oslo Accords with Yasser Arafat.

Oslo is ridiculed today and the famous 1993 handshake with Arafat as Bill Clinton cajoled a reluctant Rabin is far removed from today's world. Sadly, Rabin paid the ultimate price and was assassinated by a right wing nut in November 1995. I'm convinced that had Rabin lived a two state solution would be within reach today. Alas, we'll never know.

Islamic extremists exploited Rabin's assassination and used terrorism to undermine Shimon Peres's government. Peres had never prevailed in a national election before and didn't possess Rabin's national security credentials. That opened the door for the despicable Benjamin Netenyahu in 1996 who zealously pursued a reckless policy to achieve a "Greater Israel."

Ehud Barak defeated Netenyahu in May 1999 but not before the peace constituencies in both Israeli and Palestinian societies were severely dispirited. Both Arafat and Barak also blundered at Camp David in 2000-2001 as President Clinton desperately tried to bridge the divide. With neither Arafat nor Barak possessing the political capital or will to make the necessary compromises, super-hawk Ariel Sharon provoked conflict with his stroll into the Temple Mount as the Israeli public elected him to succeed Barak in 2001. The Palestinians reaped the whirlwind as Barak opted to leave politics.

Barak returned to serve in Prime Minister Olmert's Kadima-Labor coalition government following the disastrous war with Lebanon in 2006. As the New York Times reported, he opposed military aggression in Gaza just as Colin Powell disagreed with Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld over the Iraq War. As the article also notes, Barak initially resisted warmongers in Israel’s body politic as an old soldier who is horrified by war and didn’t believe a harsh military response to Gaza made strategic sense.

Indeed, Barak was rightfully more concerned with the strategic long view with respect to Iran and believed occupying Gaza would be self-defeating. Yet just like Colin Powell, Barak opted not to resign or publicly oppose his government's policy.

So Barak is now prosecuting a war he knows to be immoral and strategically self-defeating. A war that international aid organizations such as the Red Cross are properly condemning Israel for after four children were discovered next to the bodies of their dead mothers. And Barak's political fortunes are rising because of it as nation states typically rally in a time of war. There is a good chance he will prevail in the upcoming election for Prime Minister against the transparently narcistic Netanyahu and feckless Kadima Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livini.

As I've previously written, Hamas also merits condemnation for regarding their people as collateral damage just as Arafat did while he lived the good life inside Lebanon back in 1982. Nonetheless, Israel has responded disproportionately to Hamas's provocations. The number of Israeli deaths does not justify the mass killing of innocent Palestinian civilians. As someone dedicated to peace and human rights as well as a Jew who cares about Israel, my heart feels as if it's impaled on a dull blade.

And Barak, the hero of the Entebbe Rescue in 1976 and onetime Yitzak Rabin protégé is an enabler. Pitifully, Barak actually represents the best Israel's body politic has to offer. A decade ago Barak's political ascendancy represented hope. Today this talented man is a symbol of Israel's decaying body politic that has gone insane. Just like Colin Powell and America’s body politic in 2002.

1 comment:

Mark Prime (tpm/Confession Zero) said...

As someone dedicated to peace and human rights as well as a Jew who cares about Israel, my heart feels as if it's impaled on a dull blade.

I can only imagine, my friend, how it must feel for you... It is most sad even to me.

What a shame about Barak. Power corrupts and absolute power... well, you know the rest.