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Barak Bulldozes Labor

Barak sways labor into Netanyahu coalition

Labor conference agrees to put 'country before party' by vote of 680-507

Former rivals Netanyahu and Barak now united in confronting Iran, Palestinians and sliding economy

Defense Minister Ehud Barak (Photo: Amit Shabi)

How and why has Labor Party leader Ehud Barak succeeded in swaying his left wing party into joining the right wing coalition of Bibi Netanyahu? IsraCast examines some of the implications after the dramatic vote by the Labor Party conference and why many Israelis may now sleep sleep a little better.

If there were some credible Palestinian peace prospects now on the table, it might have been a different story at the Labor party conference

One fact is abundantly clear - Ehud Barak still dominates the Labor Party even after its abysmal showing in the recent election. Barak was able to steer left-wing labor into the coalition despite the party's abhorrence of the Likud in general and Bibi Netanyahu in particular. It indicates there is no real challenger to rival Barak's predominant position. Among the opponents, former party leader Amir Peretz is finished while rising stars such as Ophir Paz and Shelli Yehimovitz have still a long way to climb. Nevertheless, Barak a past Prime Minister and IDF Chief of Staff, needed some vital help to overcome the deep antipathy in Labor to joining a Likud-led cabinet. It came from Offer Aini, the powerful head of the Histadrut trade union. Once Aini declared that it was crucial that Labor joined the government to protect the working man's jobs and interests, Barak was more or less home free despite the very strong rearguard action led by seven of thirteen Labor Knesset members. The Histadrut's support took the wind out of their claim that Barak was simply interested in keeping his coveted job as defense minister. With Labor and the Histadrut about to play an important role in economic policy, the door is open for the new government, management and the unions to work out a needed package-deal to cope with the skidding economy that has seen tens of thousands of Israelis lose their jobs.

Benyamin Netanyahu (Photo: Amit Shabi)

As for foreign policy - the fact that left-wing Labor has agreed to join hard-line Likud reflects the overall Israeli attitude to peace prospects with the Palestinians at present. After eight years of rocketing from Gaza that led to the recent war in the Gaza Strip and with an Iranian backed Hamas regime now ruling Gaza, most Israelis have lost credibility in the Oslo, and now Annapolis process. That of course explains the overall swing to the right in the recent Israeli election. If there were some credible Palestinian peace prospects now on the table, it might have been a different story at the Labor party conference. The weekend car bomb attempt to blow up a Haifa shopping center, believed to have been planned in the West Bank and the recent killing of two Israeli policemen on the West Bank, also indicates that the West Bank is still a hotbed of terror activity and that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is far from being in control.

Netanyahu and Barak may may have to agree on what Israel should do after U.S. President Barak Obama discovers the Iranians will not desist and there is not much the U.S. can or will do to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons

While Barak dominates Labor, this is also the case in Likud where Netanyahu rules the roost. But in order to cobble together his right wing coalition, Netanyahu has had to share out most of the prized cabinet posts to his coalition partners, leaving little for his Likud stalwarts. Although there is much grumbling in the Likud, as there now is in Labor, Likudniks will have to swallow their anger and accept the old Labor adage of adhering to the party verdict. In the Likud, IDF Chief of Staff former IDF Chief of Staff Moshe Yaalon has set the example by declaring that he was more than willing to give up his hope of becoming defense minister, if it meant Barak and Labor would in the new to be sworn in next week.

Tzipi Livni (Photo: Amit Shabi)

So the two old political rivals, Ehud Barak of Labor and Bibi Netanyahu of the Likud have joined forces in a coalition now numbering some sixty-six seats in the one hundred and twenty member Knesset. They will now need all of their political prowess in cooperating to cope with the daunting challenges not only of the Palestinians and the slumping economy, but also how to deal with the Iranian nuclear threat. Netanyahu and Barak may  may have to agree on what Israel should do after U.S. President Barak Obama discovers the Iranians will not desist and  there is not much the U.S. can or will do to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. For this reason, the majority of Israelis may sleep a little better and that is why most of the Labor delegates to the party conference voted in favor of joining the Likud coalition. And this footnote, Binyamin Ben Eliezer who is also slated for retaining his cabinet post has called on Kadima's Tzipi Livni to also join the coalition. Ben Eliezer said he was ready to give up his post to bring Kadima into the coalition. However, Livni is adamant in her refusal.

David Essing

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