190726 Ehud Barak
Ehud Barak Image Credit: Reuters

Making his return to politics, Ehud Barak, former Israeli prime minister and previous leader of the Labor party, has announced the creation of a new political party called Israel Democratic Party. It is based on a centre-left coalition for the upcoming elections and opinion polls have indicated the new grouping is ahead of the rightist bloc for the first time. The 77-year-old Barak was the prime minister of Israel and defence minister between 1999- 2001. He also served as defence minister in 2007-2013 and Labor leader in 2009-2013 before retiring from active political life. Coming back to politics, he now believes that there is an opportunity to oust Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu whose position is weak. Even if he wins the next election, Netanyahu might be forced to resign because of investigations in corruption charges against him.

Announcing his political move, Barak launched a sharp attack on Netanyahu blaming him for “the dark days of Israel”. He said “Netanyahu’s regime with his radical and racist partners and the corrupt rightist leadership should be toppled. “Your tenure as a political leader has come to an end. This is the right time to go home. I am warning you not to push Israel into chaos to avoid imprisonment,” Barak warned Netanyahu. He further stressing that his election slogan will be “State of Netanyahu or the state of Israel?” Barak has publicly stated that “(Bibi) is a threat to Israel not less important than the Iranian threat.” Netanyahu, Barak went on to add, poses a biggest threat to Israeli democracy.

Ehud Barak has clearly stated his goal: One unified list of all the parties in the centre-left to run in the elections (will ensure that) no votes will be lost

- As’ad Abdul Rahman

Barak’s decision sparked different reactions in the Israeli political circles. “Barak is the most failed prime minister in the history of Israel — the one who was fired from his job at the most critical time in our history. This is the man who promised to hand over Jerusalem and the old city to Yasser Arafat,” said Ophir Akunis, Israeli minister of science and technology. Eli Cohen, the minister of industry and economy said “Barak is the worst and most failed prime minister of Israel, and he tries to let everyone know how to govern the country. He will be breathing his last breath at the end of this year”.

But Amir Peretz, who was elected Labor party chairman several days ago, said that “Barak’s return will have a positive impact on Netanyahu’s defeat,” adding that he “may agree to be the second candidate on a list headed by Barak and will run the Knesset elections.” The Israeli press also predicted that following the victory of former Knesset member Nitzan Horowitz as leader of the left-wing Meretz party “this victory strengthens the possibility of Meretz joining Barak in the upcoming elections”.

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Standing behind the moves to oust Netanyahu, former internal security minister Moshe Shahal said that he “supports and backs every effort to bring down the Netanyahu government and the right (wing) ... Barak has enormous experience and capabilities.” Israeli politician Yossi Beilin also threw his weight around him: “In recent years, although he was outside the government and the Knesset, Barak was the most prominent man in the opposition to Netanyahu, and even when he introduced his new movement, his personal opposition to Netanyahu was at the centre of his speech. He said decisive and correct things about the need to topple the “Benjamin Netanyahu regime.” Yair Golan, a former deputy chief of staff, said: “Israel has a corrupt leadership, and this situation should not continue.

Meanwhile the country’s former foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, refused to join Barak’s new party, “because it will weaken the left-center forces, and the right will exploit this weakness.” Benny Gantz, leader of the White and Blue party cautioned that “any split in the left bloc will hurt our chances of changing the Netanyahu government.” But Barak has clearly stated his goal: “One unified list of all the parties in the centre-left to run in the elections (will ensure that) no votes will be lost. (Also) energies will not be wasted in internal conflicts, but directed outward only.” The Israeli press celebrated the return of Barak to the political arena, where it was clear from the comments and analysis that the ‘celebration’ was not about his return, but the possibility that it would unseat Netanyahu.

Barak is playing in the centre-left field seeking to unite the parties and in the process taking votes from the right. However, many politicians and observers do believe that his new party may be able to reach the election threshold. Critics say that he will waste the opposition votes instead of uniting forces against the right. Therefore many politicians and observers are convinced that these elections will see a heated contest from within the left ranks. With the new party, Israel’s partisan life may see the absence of Meretz and Labor because one or both of them could not reached the specified threshold. The success of Barak’s party means withdrawing votes from the White and Blue. Therefore, until now, there is no competitor to Netanyahu on the Israeli scene.

— Professor As’ad Abdul Rahman is the chairman of the Palestinian Encyclopaedia.