The news that Defense Minister Ehud Barak has dismissed the possibility that the current talks between the government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority will lead to peace ought to have surprised no one.
In the summer of 2000, Barak — then Israel's prime minister, and today leader of the country's center-left Labor Party — placed the most generous peace offer in the history of the conflict on the table at Camp David. The reply was not only a stark refusal by the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to take yes for an answer, but was followed two months later by an all-out terrorist war of attrition known as the second intifada. It would be surprising indeed if Barak were not a bit chastened by this experience.
While some have condemned Barak for not supporting peace efforts, his realism on this score is to be commended. And if it places him, at least on this issue, more in agreement with opposition leaders — such as once and perhaps future rival Benjamin Netanyahu of the Likud Party — then his colleagues in the Cabinet, that's because both men reflect a consensus within the nation that refuses to endorse what Barak terms "fantasies" about the Palestinians.
Barak and Netanyahu are both right to worry about the danger to Israel if possible pullbacks from parts of the West Bank will duplicate the disaster that followed the withdrawal from Gaza, which has led to an unending barrage of terrorist missiles on neighboring Israeli towns and kibbutzim.
Israel's people long for peace, but the ability of some of its leaders to learn from the mistakes of the recent past is a sign not of cynicism or extremism, but of a much-needed realism.