Reprinted from The Jerusalem Post

Barak's Nonsensical U-turns

By Evelyn Gordon

(December 12) - If additional proof was needed that Ehud Barak is unfit to be prime minister, the announcement of his resignation Saturday night provided it.

Under different circumstances, his resignation might have been admirable. Such a step would, for instance, have been entirely appropriate after his coalition shrank to barely a quarter of the Knesset and his efforts to rebuild it failed. It would also have been reasonable two weeks ago, when a majority of the Knesset declared its lack of faith in him by passing an early elections bill in first reading. Saturday night, however, it was not appropriate.

This is not because the resignation was a "dirty trick" designed to keep former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu out of the race, as Likud MKs have charged. Resignation is a perfectly valid tactic under the rules of the game set out by Israeli law. The problem, rather, is what this resignation says about Barak's decision-making abilities.

Barak's frequent and rapid U-turns on policy have long bewildered most Israelis. His handling of the current conflict with the Palestinians is a classic example: One day, he bellows that peace with Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat is impossible; the next, he declares that Arafat is a partner, and Israel is determined to reach an agreement with him.

The same is true of Barak's "secular revolution." He campaigned on this issue in 1999, dropped it after being elected because he wanted Shas's support on diplomatic issues, raised it again when Shas left the coalition this summer, discarded it a second time when he needed Shas's parliamentary "safety net" this fall, then resurrected it yet again in his resignation speech Saturday night.

This inability to set a course on complex policy issues provides ample reason to deem Barak incapable of leading the country. But with his resignation, he has proved that he cannot steer a course on even the simplest of issues.

In the 12 days that elapsed between his decision to support early elections for the whole Knesset and his decision to call elections for the prime minister only, nothing changed. All the facts were the same. Barak simply could not make up his mind about how to interpret them. He tried to justify his about-face by saying he had become convinced a swift election was necessary to end the paralysis of the political system. That is undoubtedly true.

But the need to end this paralysis was already pressing two months ago, when it became clear that the Knesset would not be able to pass such basic legislation as the 2001 budget due to the lack of a governing coalition. It reached a crisis 12 days ago, with the Knesset's vote in favor of early elections. Yet even then, Barak dragged his feet, refusing to let his representatives finalize a date for new elections with the Likud.

What sudden epiphany occurred on Saturday night?

Even more puzzling is the question of why, having belatedly grasped the obvious truth that quick elections were necessary, Barak did not simply agree to the Likud's proposal of early elections in March. Two weeks ago, he said he did not want new elections for the prime minister only, because in that case, he would still lack a parliamentary majority if reelected.

Barak's official explanation for this reversal - he has since concluded that even this parliament would accept the people's mandate and support him if he were reelected - is nonsensical, because parties are responsible only to their own voters. Even swing parties such as Shas, who remain convinced that their voters despise Barak, will not ignore their own electorates. What possible benefit could there be in forfeiting his last chance of obtaining a parliamentary majority?

One cannot even explain the prime minister's actions on the basis of self-interest. One could understand Barak wanting to improve his chances of winning by calling special elections, thereby leaving Netanyahu out of the race. But two weeks ago, the polls also showed Netanyahu beating Barak by a significant margin. If the polls were not reason enough to call special elections then, why should they be reason enough now?

These three issues - the urgency of quick elections, the need to restore his parliamentary majority, and the threat represented by Netanyahu - are probably the simplest any politician could ever hope to confront. Yet even on these issues, Barak has proven that he is unable to analyze the data in real time and come to a firm conclusion. And a man incapable of making even such basic decisions as these is hardly fit to guide the country through the complex problems now facing it.

(c) The Jerusalem Post



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