Israel/Palestine: The Politics of a Two-State Solution

  • Israel/Palestine and the Politics of a Two-State Solution
  • When Peace Fails: Lessons from Belfast for the Middle East

Friday, January 21, 2011

Did Ehud Barak do a Reverse Weizman?

No, the concert pianist and renaissance general has not taken up Olympic figure skating or diving. He has not even entered the World Wrestling Federation. I'll explain what a reverse Weizman is, but first I need a little background.

For nearly the first three decades of Israeli independence, military politicians stuck to the main Zionist parties--mostly on the socialist labor side for the first two decades. In 1969 Ezer Weizman went overnight from the number two position in the IDF to the cabinet. In July 1973, Ariel Sharon was finally forced to quit the army as he had reached the maximum age with little prospect of promotion to chief of staff. So he engineered, with the help of Weizman, the creation of the Likud as a common list from four right-wing parties. Unexpectedly Sharon entered the Knesset on the last day of 1973 from the Liberals--a group of middle-class businessmen with little interest in security or foreign affairs--rather than the Herut. He didn't want to compete with Ezer.

But Sharon's real ambition was still to be chief of staff. So he got an appointment as the commander of a reserve armor division from Rabin. And he also served as Rabin's security advisor (as if Rabin--a former chief of staff--needed one). Labor MKs passed a bill in the Knesset that forbade MKs from holding command positions in the reserves. Sharon made the decision and resigned from the Knesset. By 1976 it was evident that Sharon had no chance of advancing militarily. Liberal leader Simha Erlich made it clear that he wasn't willing to take Sharon back and there was opposition to his inclusion on the Herut list from both Weizman and traditional Herut MKs. So Sharon invented the concept of the general's party--a list headed by a general and a group of loyal followers. Sharon took positions all over the political map. He adopted the name Shlomzion--the peace or wellbeing of Zion--for the party's name. But former chief of staff and world-famous archeologist Yigael Yadin had also started his own list chock full of former generals and industrialists. On election day in May 1977 Shlomzion won only two seats to Yadin's fifteen. Sharon promptly entered into talks with Begin to enter Herut. Begin used Sharon as a foil to play against Weizman and allowed Sharon in as agriculture minister in the government while Weizman, who had been a loyal Herut supporter the whole time he was in the IDF, was made minister of defense. Less than three years later Weizman resigned from the government and the Knesset after he became upset with Begin's approach to the autonomy talks, which he thought endangered the peace treaty with Egypt.

Weizman spent four years in the private sector earning money in the import-export business with Ya'akov Meridor, a former head of the Irgun Zvai Leumi before Begin and Weizman's connection with Herut during the latter's army career. In 1984 Weizman cobbled together a general's list, which included Fuad Ben-Eliezer. Yahad, not to be confused with Yahad-Meretz, won four seats. A year later it became part of Labor and Weizman entered into a second political career, which, including his time as president, lasted longer than his first. Both Sharon and Weizman had successfully engineered mid-career political transitions by means of the general's party.

Barak now appears to be engineering such a transition, but in the opposite direction politically from Weizman's transition--hence, the name reverse Weizman. Political opinion has been shifting from left to right in Israel since 1973 and much more sharply since 2000. Barak is no doubt hoping that he can arrange either his future inclusion high up on the Likud list or the creation of a new centrist party with Netanyahu. In the past Ha'Aretz has written about the possibility of a "zipper party" consisting of alternate MKs from Labor and the Likud in a common list. This seems increasingly unlikely considering the trajectory of Labor. But an inclusion of Barak and former general Matan Vilnai, who followed Barak into Atzmaut, within the Likud appears quite possible.


  1. Fascinating posts, Tom. Are you going to write about the recent Israel report clearing itself on regarding the flotilla attack?

  2. I'll probably write about this eventually, but after I deal with the Irish government debacle.