Of all the Israeli politicians affected by the call for early elections, the one whose fate is most uncertain is Ehud Barak. While he joined the coalition as defense minister by bringing in the Labor party, he ended up splitting from Labor and forming Atzmaut for the sole purpose of remaining in the government. That move allowed him to stay where he was in the short term, but it might end up costing him big in the long term. The latest polls from the Jerusalem Post, Israel Hayom, Dahaf and Maariv show Atzmaut nowhere to be found and Barak is not going to run on the Likud party list. There is the possibility that Netanyahu appoints him as defense minister anyway, but this would likely prompt a revolt unless Barak is elected to a party that is serving in the next coalition.
On the other hand, there is some evidence that all is not yet lost for Barak. Haaretz cites an unnamed poll showing that Atzmaut now has enough support to meet the Knesset threshold, and Atzmaut MK Shalom Simhon predicts that Atzmaut will four seats alone from the Druze, moshav, and kibbutz vote. In addition, Yediot reports another unnamed poll showing Atzmaut with three seats already, and there is a long time between now and the election so Barak has plenty of time to win over more potential supporters. The drop in support for Kadima over the past month alone should be enough to give Atzmaut supporters comfort in demonstrating how quickly the polls can change.
When all is said and done, I find it difficult to imagine that Atzmaut will not cross the vote threshold to win seats in the Knesset. There are a few factors at work here. First, like I said, four months is a long time, and Atzmaut has plenty of time to organize and drum up support. Barak has certainly been hard at work lately staking out positions on settlements and the Tal Law, and even taking on newcomer Yair Lapid – who might siphon off voters from Barak’s traditional center-left base – by mocking his use of a teleprompter.
Second, despite the fact that Israelis find him to be a slippery character and that his breaking away from Labor was an unpopular gambit, Barak is still a towering figure in Israeli politics. He is a former prime minister, former IDF chief of staff, the most decorated solider in Israel’s history, and is the current defense minister and second most powerful/influential politician in the country next to Bibi. I find it inconceivable that any party led by Barak won’t be able to muster the measly 2% of the vote required to win seats in the Knesset. Playing into this is the fact that Netanyahu desperately needs Barak at his side as long as the possibility of a strike on Iran still exists, and the Israeli public view Barak as a credible defense and security figure, no matter what they think of him as a politician. A new poll shows that only 25% of Israelis agree with Yuval Diskin’s criticism that Netanyahu and Barak are not equipped to deal with Iran, and no doubt Barak is going to spend the next four months reminding Israelis of how important his continued political career is to their safety and security. The last time Israel had an untested defense minister in former labor union leader Amir Peretz it was an unmitigated disaster, and Barak will be the beneficiary of the lingering memory of Peretz’s mishandling of the 2006 war with Hizballah.
So despite the polls, remember that you read this prediction here first: Atzmaut is going to have seats in the next Knesset, will serve in the governing coalition, and Ehud Barak will continue as defense minister.