News Analysis: Israel's Labor leader Barak facing internal, external criticism

January 4, 2011 11:14 am 

by Adam Gonn

JERUSALEM, Jan. 4 — Israeli Minister of Minorities Avishay Braverman, a member of the Labor party, called for a party referendum to be held later in January to decide whether or not the Labor party should remain in the government.

Braverman's remarks were echoed by his fellow ministers Isaac Herzog and Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, social affairs and trade and industry ministers, who both called on the Labor party to reexamine its participation in the government.

The Israeli Labor party that once dominated Israeli politics under the leadership of famed prime ministers such as Yitzhak Rabin and Golda Meir is again dominating the Israeli media. However, this time it's not the kind of news that the party would have hoped for.

Analysts here think the current leader of the party, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, is facing both internal and external criticisms in what some analysts say just the latest sign of the one-time political powerhouse's demise.

INTERNAL SPLITS

In the latest parliamentary election held in 2009 the Labor Party won 13 seats, making it the fourth largest party behind Likud, Israel Beiteinu and Kadima.

Despite the poor election result and the center-left leaning ideology of the party, it still joined the current largely right- wing government under Benjamin Netanyahu. Barak retained his position as defense minister which he had held in the previous Kadima-led government.

The decision to join the government was not seen as a good move by some party members. One of the main arguments from Barak behind the decision was that the party would function as a counterweight to the right-wing parties and that it would work to further the peace process.

However, after Israeli-Palestinian direct negotiations came to a standstill in September last year as the Israeli government opted not to extend its freeze on construction in Jewish settlement, views diverged again within the Labor over staying or quitting.

Dr. Avi Bareli from the Ben-Gurion Research Institute for the Study of Israel and Zionism at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev told Xinhua that the remarks of the Labor ministers to quit the government should be seen in light of the continuous crisis that the Labor party has ever had since the last election.

"We are witnessing an ongoing leadership crisis within the party as part of its electoral collapse in the Israeli electorate, " Bareli said.

AMERICAN ANGER

The Israeli daily Ha'aretz quoted American diplomats as saying that they are angry with Barak for overstating his influence on Netanyahu and the currently frozen peace talks with the Palestinians.

Dr. Dan Schueftan, director of the National Security Studies Center at the University of Haifa, said that he was not all surprised by the new revelations.

"First of all, remember that everyone in Israel is frustrated about Barak," Schueftan said, "this person managed to practically alienate everybody he worked with, including most Israelis."

Ever since the direct negotiations ended in September, Washington has tried, unsuccessfully, to get the parties to return to the table. A U.S. official was quoted by Ha'aretz as accusing Barak of failing to deliver promises that he could win government' s approval for a fresh settlement freeze.

In light of the publication, the U.S. State Department released a statement saying that "we have tremendous respect for Minister Barak and he remains a main channel of communication between the U. S. and Israel."

Barak served as Israel's prime minister during 1999 and 2001. One of his main election slogans was to end Israel's 22-year long military presence in southern Lebanon, a promise that he did fulfill on May 24, 2000 when the last Israeli soldier left Lebanon.

He's remembered by most Palestinians as an Israeli prime minister who conducted direct negotiations with former Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, said Dr Nabil Kukali, director of the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion.

The high point of these negations was the Camp David Summit held in July 2000 under the auspice of then United States President Bill Clinton. Many had hoped that the meeting between Barak and Arafat would be able to bridge the last remaining differences between the two sides. But it ended without any concrete agreement.

While many Palestinians use to have high hopes for Barak back then, the situation is quite different today, Kukali said, "the Palestinians don't expect anything from Barak."

"We know that he is not the man who makes the decisions. We do not rely on him as a decision maker," he said. (PNA/Xinhua) ALM

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