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Netanyahu-Barak pact transcends right-left lines, dominates Israel's political dynamic


March 30, 2009, 9:47 AM (GMT+02:00)

Last September, two former Israeli prime ministers who failed to survive full term made common, cross-party cause for a pact which is now coming into its own, say DEBKAfile's political analysts.

Likud's Binyamin Netanyahu, 60, was defeated in 1999 by Labor's Ehud Barak, 65, defense minister in the outgoing government, who was himself unseated a year later. For six months, they burrowed quietly under the political surface towards this moment: Netanyahu can count on heading a new government in less than two weeks, retaining Barak in defense if he survives the showdown this week with his Labor party.

The combined political bloc they have effectively established confounds the historic Israeli political divide between right and left. The pair sees Israel's most acute problems as being the global economic meltdown and a nuclear-armed Iran. Netanyahu agrees to line up behind Barak on national security while the latter endorses the prime minister's program to haul the economy out of recession. This pact generated the momentum which forced Ehud Olmert to step down as prime minister and leader of Kadima last year under a cloud of corruption scandals, leading to a general election in February, with the Gaza military offensive against Hamas flaring in January in between. Now their joint strategy is close to consummation.

Olmert jumped to the plot belatedly, which is why Sunday, March 22, he poured fire and brimstone on the defense minister. He called him, though not by name, a "charlatan" who history would not forgive for entering a coalition that ignores the principle of two states for two peoples. The outgoing prime minister, who believes he is master of every political wile, found his dream of an early comeback whisked away by a maneuver which he underestimated. So, too, did his successor as Kadima leader, foreign minister Tzipi Livni.

After the general election, she counted on the Likud leader' being tied down to a narrow coalition with the nationalist and religious parties, which would founder in months. Livni therefore spurned Netanyahu's invitation to join. She now sees the Labor bird flying into his government and leaving her Kadima marooned in lonely isolation in opposition, instead of their joining forces in a powerful front to quickly shoot the Likud-led government down. To deal urgently with fast-rising unemployment and business closures, Netanyahu has made his accord with Barak the core of a public consensus that includes the Histadrut Trade Union Federation - a Labor bastion - industrialists, tycoons and welfare organizations. If the entire Labor party does come aboard, the Likud leader may lead a fairly stable administration. In the past decade, the governments in Jerusalem have fallen like skittles in mid-term.

Netanyahu and Barak served at different periods in the Israeli army's elite commando unit, Sayeret Matkal, although the former was discharged with the rank of captain and Barak went on to become chief of staff. Both too graduated from American universities, the Likud leader at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he also earned a masters degree in business management, the Labor leader sent by the army to Stanford. Netanyahu is bilingual, equally proficient in Hebrew and English.