Caution: vagueness ahead
By Gideon Samet
It cannot be said that the next prime minister is distancing himself
from his promises; but nor can it be said that he is sticking too closely to
them. It is true that there are important matters about which he does not
need to make declarations at present, but it certainly could have been
expected that he would not fog them, either. A Palestinian state, for
example.This caution stems from what looks like Prime Minister-elect Ehud
Barak's preference for general formulas in order to allow him greater
flexibility later on. However, without clear formulations on the "big"
issues, the opposite will result: the government will set out without
knowing where it is heading.
Those who are hoping for things to move quickly are likely to be
disappointed. In the interview Barak gave to Hannah Kim in Ha'aretz on
Friday there are indications of the expected pace. There was an
unwillingness to put things decisively or to commit to timetables. His
statements were not in the tone of a firm message. "Things here will not be
the same as they are in Holland or Belgium or Luxembourg in the coming 50
years," he said. A truism like this about the amount the time it will take
to remove 100 years of enmity is nothing but an evasion.
As to his question why it is impossible to make peace with the
Palestinians without pulling out of Ofra, "which is located next to one of
our most strategic points," and from Ariel (because it "is Ariel") he is
also evasive. They, he said, have Jenin, Nablus, Ramallah, Hebron and
Yitzhak Rabin carried on with the peace process despite the terror
attacks. His student says that terror would stop the process, and that he
has no intention of making peace in its shadow.
A Palestinian state? Barak says he is not offering any predictions
because he "is not a commentator." Wrong. In this matter, there is no
commentator more important than he. In the matter of constitutional
legislation he is also not giving rise to any great expectations. It will be
possible to pass a number of the needed laws, he says, but others will prove
difficult. Therefore, they must be completed gradually. This is an old story
from the 1950s, when the Knesset accepted the opinion of the religious camp,
opposed a constitution and decided on Basic Laws from which a constitution
will eventually be stitched together. The natural expectation was that
Barak's victory a month ago would revive the momentum of the legislation of
Basic Laws at the beginning of the decade. Almost all of the major Basic
Laws are ready for approval, but it increasingly looks as though Barak is in
If this continues to be the formula, the big issues will loom in the
coming months without the prime minister facing up to them with the urgency
inferred from his promises of a change. The National Religious Party (NRP)
will of course try to hinder things. Meretz, which swore to energize Rabin,
might well wait outside. The extreme caution Barak has adopted will slow
down the momentum. He is too vague.
Ever since his election, it has been possible to understand why he
would prefer to put off dealing with the big tasks of peace and legislation
until after his government stabilizes. They are not discussed in detail in
the coalition negotiations he is conducting and certainly not by David Libai
and his colleagues on the technical team. So as not to throw up obstacles,
there is no more than general talk of the nature of ultra-Orthodox
education, the mending of the ways in which ultra-Orthodox interests are
funded (Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef wants deficits of NIS 100
million to be plugged), the details of constitutional legislation and the
settlements beyond the Green Line.
The argument offered in defense of the technique of vagueness is
that it is constructive. We are asked to wait patiently, as the business has
not yet really got underway. But these watery formulations will not
necessarily afford Barak more room to maneuver for the government of change.
At present, a spell is being cast by the dramatic process of tying up the
loose ends of the coalition package. Every rookie prime minister seeks a
certain amount of unclarity so that he can pour his own contents into it.
Often, this vagueness, which is supposedly intended only for the bargaining
period, later shapes the contents. If Barak knows how to overcome this
classic difficulty, but just isn't saying so, good for him.