The White House and the majority of Jews are certainly optimistic over Ehud Barak’s election. The Washington Post editorial was sure the election produced “from an American vantage point, the right winner.” However, the American vantage point isn’t the only one.
Saeb Erekat, a Palestinian negotiator, told ABC’s Nightline: “I don’t think we can have an easy ride with Mr. Barak. … I think we’re going to face a lot of difficult times.”
Agency France-Presse quoted senior Palestinian official Faruq Kaddumi: “There are no basic differences” between Labor and Likud. AFP also reported that Lebanese Prime Minister Salim Hoss downplayed the results, as well: “Most of the Israeli wars against the Arabs were carried out by the Labor party.”
Iran state radio was cynical: “Even the defeat” of
Netanyahu “will not lead the peace process out of the current dead-end. … Many experts reject the exaggerated optimism.” The Palestinian Al-Hayyat Al-Jadida rejected it, writing: “Ehud Barak is not our candidate nor he is our salvation.”
On “Nightline,” Robert Satloff of the Washington Institute cautioned, “Once the honeymoon wears off, that we will then see that the Israeli consensus and the Palestinian consensus are still very far apart.”
Suddenly, Barak is not good enough, either. Time’s Jerusalem bureau chief Lisa Beyer writes on Time’s daily web site: “Barak is very hawkish. He’s not an enthusiastic peacenik and, as military chief of staff, actually acted as a brake on Yitzhak Rabin in the initial stages of the peace process. … Rabin went boldly out ahead of Israeli public opinion [but] Barak is only starting out on his political career, and he’s unlikely to be prepared to take similar risks.”
At the White House, Jordan’s new King Abdullah told American reporters the election made him “very, very optimistic.” But the local Jordan Times in Amman downgraded the reaction of Jordan’s government to “cautious optimism.” The paper quoted a Hamas spokesman that “Labor and Likud do not have any differences on the major final status issues.” But prices rose on the Jordanian financial markets.
Elsewhere in the Arab world, The Gulf Times (Kuwait) said the victory “raised hopes.” Lebanon’s An-Nahar newspaper ran a large front-page headline: “Israel Escapes From Netanyahu Mess.” Its columnist wrote: “Barak’s victory is … a rejection of Netanyahu’s rejection of peace!”
In Israel, the Haaretz editorial said the results proved “Israeli society is thirstier than ever before for a credible, sober and moderate leadership that will work to repair the rifts and bring back the balance between the public’s various groups and sectors under a broad umbrella of basic agreements.” In contrast to Netanyahu, “the public is eager for a man of truth, a real civil servant and social reformer.”
Character was the issue. “Rabin was hated by the right wing for his policies,” wrote Nachum Barnea, a columnist for the Yediot Ahronot wrote earlier in the week. “Netanyahu was hated both by left and right because of his character. … The hatred went overboard — what Menachem Begin could be forgiven for, Netanyahu could not.”
The Times of London called Barak’s victory a “sensation,” but noticed that Barak “has adopted a position on a future Palestinian state and future negotiations with Syria that, while strikingly different in tone [from Netanyahu] is not significantly different in substance. The shift was not received well by many in the Labor movement for whom [Shimon] Peres, and his policy of magnanimous territorial concessions, remains sacrosanct.”
The New York Times’ editorial post-mortem Tuesday found a few kind, but qualified, words for Netanyahu, “a tough and eloquent defender of Israeli security needs. He reached important agreements on Hebron and parts of the West Bank, but each was defended as a grudging step rather than put forward as part of a larger strategic vision enlisting the Palestinians as Israel’s partners. Mr. Netanyahu’s concession statement was gracious, in contrast with the angry and divisive tone of his campaign.”
Times columnist Thomas Friedman elaborated on the editorial, writing in a column last week that Netanyahu had many leadership problems but actually did a lot, fulfilling his original mandate of bringing peace with security. Under Netanyahu, terrorism greatly slowed, Likud was led into Oslo, Hebron was handed over, the Wye agreement was signed with Arafat, and a majority of Israelis — even on the right — can envision some sort of Palestinian state. But then, writes Friedman, came the great irony: “He brought a whole new segment of Israel into the peace process — but he stayed out of it himself,” bashing Arafat, blaming Labor, the leftists, the elites. “Instead of leading that parade, Mr. Netanyahu [was] shying away from his own accomplishment … because he [refused] to embrace his own peace process, he [was] incapable of painting any positive vision of the future.”
In the Times analysis on Tuesday, Deborah Sontag — after writing a few days earlier that the election essentially was a referendum on Netanyahu — backpedaled somewhat, saying “it would be insulting both to Ehud Barak and to the Israeli electorate to suggest that this was nothing more than a throw-out-the-Netanyahu vote. Very clearly, Israelis were not just rejecting but choosing, too. Weary of conflict, they were electing what they considered the best path to internal and external peace, a resolution of both the conflicts within their society and those on their borders. They wanted normalcy, order, and integrity in government. And to get these things, they wagered, with the choice of Barak, on an old model: a kibbutznik and decorated general who to them seemed capable of both toughness and compassion.”