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Is It the End of the 'Trembling Hand' Phenomenon in Israel?
"In the past, party identity was strong enough that even if someone contemplated voting for another party, you would go behind the curtain and your hand [would] begin to tremble, and you go vote for the party that your parents voted for and your whole family voted for," related Barak, Israel's 10th prime minister, in an interview right before a fundraiser at Temple Beth Sholom in Cherry Hill, N.J.
Although he echoed many pundits - who have argued that the incapacitated Prime Minister Ariel Sharon dealt a severe blow to Israel's left/right divide by offering a centrist alterative in the form of the Kadima Party - Barak, 62, still seemed amazed about the new political reality.
Kadima, which soared to victory in the March 28 parliamentary elections - with Interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert at its helm - counts among its members lifelong Likud Party member Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, as well as longtime Labor leader and former Israeli premier Shimon Peres.
"It's as if [right-wing pundit] Pat Buchanan and [the late liberal senator] Daniel Patrick Moynihan would sit together" in the same party, he said in drawing an example from American politics.
Still, it's Kadima's success, he noted, that may spell the end of the "trembling-hand phenomenon," affecting voting patterns in Israel for decades to come.
Barak - who held Israel's top post from July 1999 to March 2001, and who witnessed the collapse of Palestinian peace talks and the start of the second intifada - spoke before 800 or so people inside the sanctuary.
NBC news correspondent Andrea Mitchell also participated in the program, offering recollections of a career spent covering events in the Middle East, and later interviewed Barak onstage, asking him about his feelings regarding Iran's nuclear ambitions.
While Barak's talk was officially designated "off the record," he did agree to meet with several reporters beforehand.
Ironically, even though Barak proclaimed Israel's polarized political ways of the past on its last legs, he revealed that he may have a bit of the "trembling-hand phenomenon" himself.
The former leader of the Labor Party said that he planned to return to Israel to vote for his party, even though he criticized Labor's current chairman, Amir Peretz, for veering toward what he described as a unionist-centered agenda.
On the other hand, he noted that Kadima seems to be leading the country in the right direction in terms of promising further disengagement from the Palestinians.
"When I read the platform of Kadima, I read word for word the platform I shaped five years ago, and couldn't even convince my own party to adopt," stated Barak, former chief of staff of the Israel Defense Force.
He also claimed that the failure of the 2000 Camp David accords led to his advocating of a separation fence, as well as the idea of pulling out of Palestinian territories.
Turning to an article appearing last week in the Hebrew daily Yediot Achronot that speculated that Barak may have his eyes on a Cabinet post in the new Kadima-led government, the politician said he didn't know if such an offer would come.
He nevertheless clarified that he wouldn't rule it out.
They've Got It All Wrong!
In addressing the three-year anniversary of the American-led invasion of Iraq, Barak asserted that history will ultimately deem President George W. Bush's decision to topple Saddam Hussein the correct one.
"Immediately after the brilliant military victory, our situation changed for the better because Iraq was a major rival of Israel's," said Barak. "They participated in every war against Israel, from the War of Independence to the Yom Kippur War."
Still, he did emphasize that the war was not launched solely for Israel's benefit, but was instead meant to prevent Hussein from using weapons of mass destruction.
Barak lashed out against a recently released research paper by political scientists John Meashemer of the University of Chicago and Stephen Walt of Harvard University, which asserted that the American pro-Israel lobby pressured the administration into maintaining an alliance with Israel. That alliance, the paper concluded, was counter to American interests, and served to encourage anti-American feeling in the Muslim world.
Barak countered that those who believe America is despised in the Muslim world because of its support for Israel have it all backward.
"Israel is hated," he said, "because it is perceived as an island of Western values [in] an ocean of Muslim society."