Netanyahu Falls Prey to Barak the Hawk

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A Labor politician, a new soldier-statesman, is now in charge in Israel -- but the world shouldn't hold its breath waiting for a brave new era of Israeli-Palestinian peace. Ehud Barak's resounding victory in Monday's election is certainly grounds for hope, but only if tempered with a measure of caution. "Such optimism is based more on the assumption that the peace process is better off without Benjamin Netanyahu than on an understanding of who Barak is," says TIME Jerusalem bureau chief Lisa Beyer. "Barak is very hawkish. He's not an enthusiastic peacenik and, as military chief of staff, actually acted as a brake on Yitzhak Rabin in the initial stages of the peace process." And it was domestic issues, rather than peace, that formed the basis of the Labor party leader's challenge to Netanyahu.

Barak's status as an Israeli war hero at the head of the country's pro-peace party raises the temptation to liken him to the legendary soldier-statesman Rabin. "It's an understandable comparison, particularly since Rabin chose Barak as his long-term successor," says Beyer. "But Rabin went boldly out ahead of Israeli public opinion with the confidence generated by a long and distinguished military and political career. Barak is only starting out on his political career, and he's unlikely to be prepared to take similar risks." He may be no Yitzhak Rabin, but with the peace process having ground to a halt on Netanyahu's watch, the Labor party leader's most important peacemaking credential may be simply that he's also not Bibi.