Could it possibly be that in the absence of Yassir Arafat, Ehud Barak has decided to assume the role of his erstwhile nemesis? Whether accurately or not, Arafat was often depicted as the stubborn naysayer - a mantle that rather too comfortably sits Barak's shoulders, these days. For a stunning demonstration of the analogy, compare Ehud Barak's speech to a Labor Party convention yesterday, with the former PLO leader's famous appearance at the United Nations in Geneva in November 1974:
Barak: "I will go to Annapolis so as not to miss an opportunity for peace, but it will be with both feet on the ground, with open eyes, one hand extended for peace and the other hand with a finger on the trigger in order to squeeze it at the suitable moment."
Arafat: "Today I have come bearing an olive branch and a freedom fighter's gun. Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand. I repeat: do not let the olive branch fall from my hand."
All mischief-making aside, here is the real problem posed by the way the Israeli Labor Party Leader and Defense Minister is now positioning himself: to the extent that the creation of Kadima presented an opportunity to break the Israeli political deadlock, it was predicated on leading a diplomatic effort from the center of the Israeli political map that would be pulled from both right and left. A Kadima-led process would always, by definition, be centrist because of these countervailing left-right pressures. Theoretically, the Israeli political tie would be broken and a majority ensured for far-reaching diplomatic moves. Ehud Barak, by positioning himself to the right of Ehud Olmert, with regard to the diplomatic process, has destroyed this delicate balance. In so doing, he has made a political breakthrough, and the attendant advancing of peace and security for Israel, more difficult. Barak's own Labor Party colleagues have not been shy in criticizing the unhelpful role played by the Party Boss. The field has been left open to Olmert's right-wing allies in the Yisrael Beiteinu and Shas parties to drive the domestic political dynamic pre-Annapolis. Barak, more than anyone, could have prevented this. It would not be unfair to describe Barak, rather than Olmert, as the Annapolis spoiler.
Of course, Olmert's political weakness, which predates the Annapolis preparations, has also limited his room for maneuver and Barak is certainly not to blame on this front. And a lack of American boldness and decisiveness in driving the Annapolis process no doubt encouraged Barak's negativity and Olmert's caution. Barak is unlikely to change his spots post-Annapolis while he remains focused on regaining the premiership, though if he is successful, we may see a different Ehud Barak. If the American ingredient in this so-far unconstructive mix does not change, then we can expect more of the same damp squib process in the coming months.