Friday, April 6, 2012

The Likud's new enemy: Barak

The Likud's new enemy: Barak

Mati Tuchfeld

For a long time, the Likud party has been trying to decipher the strange attraction between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Why, Likud members wonder, does Netanyahu indiscriminately impose his will on Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, for example, while Barak's every whim instantly becomes reality?

The way Netanyahu sees it, the opposite is true: It does not matter how many times he declares that it was he, not Barak, who approved the evacuation of the disputed house in Hebron, opponents' arrows will consistently be directed at Barak. For Netanyahu, Barak is a "defensive shield" – whether he is confronting the Obama administration or his own Likud party, Barak is the premier's bulletproof vest.

But three years after taking office, Netanyahu's flak jacket is wearing thin. It is full of holes. It is not clear how much protection Barak can provide.

The evacuation of Jewish settlers from the contested house in Hebron on Wednesday will probably not topple the coalition. For one thing, the evacuation was carried out without incident - there were no difficult sights, no violence. But the current coalition would probably not survive additional evacuations. The Likud is also ill-equipped for such maneuvers – the Likud Convention is set to convene against the backdrop of a massive campaign opposing Netanyahu's promise to reserve a seat for Barak in the next government. This will not benefit Netanyahu in his quest for the presidency of the very same convention.

At least for now, it appears the city where the Jewish patriarchs are buried has also buried Barak's chances at a reserved Likud seat. Even a scenario in which Barak is appointed defense minister in the next government seems a remote possibility now. Likud members' sympathy for Barak is waning, to say the least. After Wednesday's evacuation, they will not hesitate to undermine his appointment - at any cost.

Netanyahu may soon find out that Barak, who is known for his hobby of dismantling watches, has systematically taken apart every viable political movement he has ever been a part of. As evidence of this, one need look no further than the Labor party, which collapsed around him but was resurrected with unprecedented speed upon his departure.

But, as mentioned, all this is true for now, at this point in time. General elections will be held in about a year, give or take. Netanyahu and Barak, besides evacuating houses in Hebron, presumably share a secret or two that could completely reshuffle the deck, both here and in another, not too far-off, country.