Former prime minister Ehud Barak unleashed an unprecedentedly harsh condemnation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s policies, arguing that the current government was endangering the entire Zionist project as it inches closer to an annexation of the West Bank, “precluding any permanent separation from the Palestinians.”
In a fiery New York Times op-ed published Saturday, Barak, who some believe is mulling a re-entry into politics, also accused the Netanyahu-led government of showing a general disrespect for the rule of law, and claimed that it had “declared war” on the courts, the media, civil society and the ethical code of the IDF.
“For all of Israel’s great achievements in its seven decades of statehood, our country now finds its very future, identity and security severely threatened by the whims and illusions of the ultra-nationalist government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu,” Barak wrote in the piece.
“In its more than three years in power, this government has been irrational, bordering on messianic. It is now increasingly clear where it is headed: creeping annexation of the West Bank.”
Barak stated that Netanyahu’s government “realizes that carrying out its one-state plan must entail steps and practices that necessarily clash with Israeli and international law,” and has therefore “effectively declared war on the Supreme Court of Israel, the free press and civil society, as well as the Israel Defense Forces’ ethical code.”
Over the past year, Barak has become an outspoken critic of Netanyahu, with diatribes against the prime minister and his governing coalition, on Twitter, radio and television.
The former prime minister also criticized the controversial, so-called police recommendations bill, which would ban police, upon wrapping up an investigation, from informing prosecutors whether there are grounds for indictment. The bill is widely seen as an attempt by Likud lawmakers to shield Netanyahu from the public fallout should police find sufficient evidence to warrant criminal charges by prosecutors.
“This disrespect for the rule of law permeates other aspects of the government, too, Barak wrote. “It helps to shield the prime minister, his family and his aides from corruption investigations.”
“The same inclination toward self-preservation is evident in Mr. Netanyahu’s capitulation to ultra-Orthodox parties on religious issues, damaging Israel’s crucial relationship with American Jews,” Barak wrote. “That relationship has grown even more strained since Mr. Netanyahu reneged on a deal that would have expanded egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, Judaism’s holiest site. This is a longstanding demand for recognition from Reform and Conservative Jews, who together make up about half of the Jewish-American community.”
Barak, who was the IDF’s longest-serving chief of staff and the country’s most decorated soldier before becoming prime minister in 1999 after defeating Netanyahu in elections, went on to lay out his vision for dealing with the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
“The Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem and the ‘settlement blocs’ — suburban communities built just across the Green Line, which include some 80 percent of the total settler population — will remain in Israel no matter what,” Barak wrote. “In any future peace agreement, these areas can be offset by land swaps with the Palestinians. Similarly, overall security responsibility in the West Bank will remain in the hands of the Israel Defense Forces as long as necessary.”
“The entire debate, then, is actually only over the fate of the isolated settlements, fewer than 100 small communities deep in the West Bank, containing around 100,000 settlers. Even if it is not possible to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at this stage — and it probably is not — it is obvious that continued construction in those isolated settlements directly damages Israel’s vital interests. The settlements are a security liability, not an asset. They aim to block the option of a ‘divorce’ from the Palestinians, which the overwhelming majority of Israelis support.”
Concluding the op-ed, Barak accused Netanyahu of “systematically erod[ing] Israel’s democracy and liberal norms of governance,” adding that the prime minister’s government “jeopardizes Israel’s very future, while dividing and inciting us against each other and maligning those abroad who genuinely care about Israel.”
Following Barak’s defeat in 2001 to the late Ariel Sharon, Barak temporarily retired from politics, but returned to the Labor Party in 2005. From 2007 to 2013 he served as defense minister, the last four years under Netanyahu.
In 2011, he split from Labor, along with four other MKs, forming the short-lived Independence Party, in order to remain in Netanyahu’s coalition, despite the objection of most of Labor. The party was effectively disbanded upon Barak’s retirement from politics in 2013.