Barack and Barak: Obama in the Middle East

It was interesting to see Barack Obama and Israel’s defense minister, Ehud Barak, in the same photo op yesterday. Barak, Israel’s former prime minister, is one reason, despite all the talk about American Jews being uncomfortable with Obama’s full name, that they are more familiar with his name than other voters.

Barak is again a rising force in Israeli politics given the trouble that Israel’s prime minister, Ehud Olmert is in right now. A compelling argument can be made that had Barak been in his current post in 2006, Israel would have fared better in the Lebanon War.

Ehud Barak is also a familiar figure for American Democrats. He was the favored candidate of the Clintons in 1999 when he defeated Benjamin Netanyahu. The Clintons felt they had such a vested interest in his election that they dispatched James Carvllle, Stan Greenberg and Bob Shrum to Israel to aid Barak in his election quest.

Some are trying to make much out of the American advisers who accompanied Obama to Israel. Most notably Dennis Ross. Ross was the main Middle East negotiator for Bill Clinton and had a similar post in the first Bush Administration.

There’s no question that Ross is a classic “peace processor.” But he’s also intellectually honest. It’s Ross who has most effectively rebutted the allegation that Israel (Ehud Barak!) failed to offer Arafat a comprehensive peace deal in 2000 at Camp David, which has become a staple of Jimmy Cartersque anti-Israel vitriol.

The reality is that in the wave of the current President Bush either party’s candidate will do more to try to push negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. And, it’s also true, that given the Hamas control of Gaza, it’s likely these negotiations will go nowhere. But it doesn’t mean you can’t try.

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