Could Rahm Emanuel Help Barak Unseat Netanyahu?

By Ira Glunts

Is it possible that Rahm Emanuel will lead a team of high octane Democratic party pro-Israel political operatives to run the campaign for the former Prime Minister and current Defense Minister Ehud Barak in the next Israeli election? This scenario may not be as far-fetched as many may assume.

Consider that Bill Clinton, after many acrimonious encounters with the intransigent then Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu sent his own crack political operatives to assist Netanyahu’s opponent in 1999. Strategist James Carville, pollster Stanley Greenberg and TV advertising man Robert Shrum helped run Ehud Barak’s campaign for Prime Minister. Clinton thought Barak would be able to deliver a peace settlement with the Palestinians. Barak became the Israeli head of state, although he did nothing to promote peace in the region. However, Barak did provide a more congenial ally for the American president. It has been reported that he charmed Clinton who found it difficult to even refuse the Israeli’s most eccentric whim. Other than Barak’s stellar personality, the pro-Israel lobby may have been a contributing factor to Clinton’s unusual solicitousness.

President Barack Obama has a marked penchant for following the failed initiatives of previous American presidents, including appointing former Clinton officials to high profile positions. Think of the military build-up in Afghanistan and the bank bailouts. As for returning officials, you can start with Robert Rubin, Hillary Clinton, Dennis Ross and, of course, Rahm Emanuel.

When Ehud Barak, in a recent major speech to a large audience in Herzylia, Israel said that Israel must make peace with the Palestinians or it will become an apartheid state, the international media and many who are critical of the occupation praised his comments and lauded Barak as a peacemaker. Barak is not a force for peace and Israel has already imposed apartheid in the West Bank. Still, Barak is a smart, ambitious politician, who knows how to play music which will enchant a foreign audience and his song in Herzylia was apparently a hit. He also wants to be Prime Minister again.

The remarks made by Ehud Barak were surely not intended for domestic consumption since the very utterance of the term “apartheid” in relationship to Israeli policy automatically elicits charges of anti-Semitism among Israelis. But as former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert demonstrated, among the international community, warnings about apartheid can burnish the image of even a failed Prime Minister who has been forced out of office amid a serious corruption scandal.

President Obama may want to consider reprising Bill Clinton’s Israeli election gambit since Netanyahu humiliated him by ignoring his call for a settlement freeze and then forcing the novice head of state to declare that he and not Netanyahu was at fault for the failure to restart the Middle East peace process.

Barak is more of a team player than Netanyahu, and appeals to many Americans and Israelis who see Netanyahu’s belligerence as an embarrassment. And also, by the time the next Israeli election comes around, Obama may want to rid himself of Emanuel, his chief-of-staff,  who has already offended many progressive Democrats by design, as well as others by the force of his personality. I am sure that Emanuel, who volunteered in the Israeli army during the first Iraq war and whose father is Israeli, would jump at the chance to contribute something worthwhile to Obama, to his second homeland and to the “peace process.”

If Barak was elected Prime Minister and the peace process was restarted, President Obama could get the credit for the resumption of the talks. However, any negotiations that Barak would lead would be characterized by unfair demands that would attempt to severely limit Palestinian sovereignty. They would be doomed to end in failure as were those at Camp David.

No matter. Restarting the talks will make Obama look like a savvy and successful diplomat. The fact that they will not lead anywhere also insures that Obama will not have to confront his pro-Israel supporters in the U.S. Obama could look like a peacemaker while preserving the status quo. Isn’t that what the current U.S. administration is all about, good appearance and no action?

The whole thing is a dirty business that is probably very well suited to an operator of Emanuel’s experience, temperament and background.

The sad thing is that in the end the Palestinians continue to get screwed.

– Ira Glunts first visited the Middle East in 1972, where he taught English and physical education in a small rural community in Israel. He was a volunteer in the Israeli Defense Forces in 1992. He is a Jewish American who lives in Madison, New York. He owns and operates a used and rare book business and is a part-time reference librarian. He contributed this article to Contact him at

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