Barak departs from Labor, leaves the peace process behind
Ehud Barak’s move this week to break away from the Labor party represents a second death of the American-sponsored peace process. Already, in the days since Barak and four Labor MKs left to create the “Independence” party, several notable changes relating to Israeli-Palestinian peace have taken place and more should be expected.
On a political level, the Knesset shakeup removes all left-wing representation from the government. Faced with an imminent internal Labor party decision to leave the coalition because it wasn’t engaged in the Palestinian-Israeli peace process, Ehud Barak decided to leave the party and keep his prestigious ministry. Barak had justified Labor’s participation in the government by claiming it was a force pushing the right-wing coalition into renewed negotiations; by breaking away from Labor to stay in the government, he has endorsed the Netanyahu government’s lackadaisical attitude towards peace.
Haaretz reported earlier in the month that the White House already felt betrayed by Barak before he broke from the Labor party. An Israeli official quoted his US colleague saying, “The entire [Obama] administration bet on Barak because he said he could nudge Netanyahu toward an agreement with the Palestinians, but he deceived us and led us down the garden path.” The US official added that the Obama administration has lost its hope for the current Israeli government, “We simply have no more expectations.” As seen in the American stance before Barak left the peace camp, it is clear that from this point forward, the current Israeli government will not be seen as a pro-peace government, which will hurt its already-poor standing in the international community.
Another change, as reported in The Jerusalem Post, was one of the first portfolio transfers to take place following the Labor split – moving authority over the World Zionist Organization’s Settlement Division to the Prime Minister’s Office. The decision, reportedly taken at the behest of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, consolidates control over the allocation of funds for West Bank settlements into (more) settlement-friendly hands. The only goal of such a move is to make the building of new outposts easier. Settler association Yesha head Dani Dayan hailed it as “a positive move,” and Likud MK Danny Danon explained that it will remove bureaucratic barriers to funding new settlements.
Labor’s departure from the Netanyahu coalition is not a good sign for the peace process. Strengthened support for settlements (those both legal and illegal under Israeli law) will place more hurdles on the already-rocky road to achieving peace. Of greater political significance, is that the world’s negative perception of the Israeli government as not being genuinely interested in peace will only be reinforced. In turn, this will strengthen movements that argue the process is dead, thus giving more legitimacy and strength to the PA’s efforts at creating a Palestinian state outside the framework of direct negotiations, something Israel seriously fears.