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Barak Joins Netanyahu

Ehud Barak: "We must put country before party by joying Netanyahu cabinet"

Barak opponents vowed to resist move that is expected to be decided by Labour Party conference

Benyamin Netanyahu (Photo: Amit Shabi)

In a startling switch of events, Labor Party leader Ehud Barak has accepted an offer by Prime Minister designate Binyamin Netanyahu to join his Likud led coalition. In fact, Netanyahu and Barak have already worked out a secret deal which has enraged Labor Party doves who oppose Netanyahu's political and economic policies. The Labour Party conference is expected to decide the issue.

Ehud Barak (Photo: Amit Shabi)

"About face!" - that's the new order of Gen. Ehud Barak to his Labour Party soldiers. Labor party leader Barak is now maneuvering to join the new coalition cabinet of Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu of the Likud. A battle royal is raging inside Labor, whether the doves accused Barak of jettisoning party principles in order to retain his post as defense minister. They seem to have a case. Immediately after Labour's disastrous showing in the February 10th  election, Barack declared: "The voters have had their say and banished us to the opposition!"

Histadrut union leader Lior Einay has thrown his considerable clout behind joining the Netanyahu coalition. He argues that with the economy on the skids, Labor must have a voice at the cabinet table when economic policy is formulated

But behind the scenes Barak and Netanyahu had been secretly working on a deal thatwould let Barak retain his coveted position as defense minister; several other cabinet seats would also go to Labor. In return, Bibi Netanyahu gets a left wing partner to soften the image of his right wing coalition.

It's not all clear sailing although Netanyahu and Barak have cut a deal. Seven of Labor's 13 Knesset members are up in arms. Former party leader Amir Peres is leading the charge followed by six other Knesset members. Barak has six Knesset members in his camp. Barak's opponents come from the socialist and dovish wing of Labor and they are vehemently opposed to what they view as Netanyahu's "piggish capitalism". However, Histadrut  union leader Lior Einay has thrown his considerable clout behind joining the Netanyahu coalition. He argues that with the economy on the skids, Labor must have a voice at the cabinet table when economic policy is formulated. In effect, the Histadrut leader's position pulls the rug out from under Barak's opponents when it comes to economic policy.

Tzipi Livni (Photo: Amit Shabi)

After news broke of the Barak-Netanyahu deal, the defense minister told Israel Radio: "Country comes before party and we have no spare country, that's why we must join the Netanyahu government". He went on to say that Israel will be better off with Labor, a left of center party in the cabinet rather than a far right coalition. The latest opinion polls show that a majority of Israelis favor Labor entering the new government. Barak's opponents in Labor are threatening to split the party. However when the issue is brought before the party conference, the 1400 members will have their say and determine the outcome. Labor has had a tradition of obeying "the movement's verdict".

How might Labor affect the Netanyahu government's approach to the Iranian nuclear threat. Netanyahu has been outspoken warning: "Iran will not be permitted to acquire nuclear weapons!" And after Defense Minister Barak oversaw the Israel Air Force simulated air strike against Iranian nuclear targets last June, the Labor party leader said "we are not taking any options off the table".

And if Labor does join the coalition as it may very well, will this not arouse dissension against Livni in Kadima for being left out in the cold and open to charges of putting party before country in a time of national emergency?

As for the Palestinians, Netanyahu is committed to honoring Israel's former agreements although he views a Palestinian state as a threat to Israel. This has been a bone of contention that has apparently prevented the Kadima party of Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni from joining Netanyahu's coalition.  Livni demanded a clear, unequivocal declaration by Netanyahu in support of the "two states for two peoples solution". Netanyahu has refused. This is not a problem for Ehud Barak. When Barak as prime minister made major concessions, that went unanswered by Yasir Arafat at Camp David 2000, the Labor party leader had his fingers burned politically. Barak was actually accused by the Left of going too, far too fast! Many observers believe that Tzipi Livni is now farther to the left than Barak. For example, during Livni's recent peace negotiations with the Palestinians, Barak reportedly cracked: "It's nothing more than a soufle filled with hot air, prick it with a fork and it will collapse."

Sources close to Barak say they have no illusions about peace prospects with the Palestinians at present, despite U.S. President Obama's attempt to rev up momentum. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is barely in control of the West Bank, while the other half of the Palestinians in Gaza continue to lob rockets at Israel declaring their intention to wipe the Jewish state off the map.

While Labor gets its act together on whether to join the coalition, Netanyahu has slowed down coalition contacts with Shas and other right wing parties. Labor's entry into the coalition obviously lessens their pressure on Netanyahu when it comes to making their sectorial demands. And if Labor does join the coalition as it may very well, will this not arouse dissension against Livni in Kadima for being left out in the cold and open to charges of putting party before country in a time of national emergency?

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