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Tuesday Vote to Determine: Labor Gov't or Nationalist?

by Hillel Fendel

(IsraelNN.com) The future of the next Israeli government depends on a vote this Tuesday within the Labor Party – once Israel’s largest party, now its 4th-largest.

Labor Party leader Ehud Barak, who very much favors joining the coalition government currently in formation, said on Sunday morning that he would not bolt the party if it turns down the initiative. He thus quashed rumors that the party is headed for a split if it decides not to join the government. However, he left open the possibility that other party members might split off themselves if the vote goes in his favor.

Prime Minister-designate Binyamin Netanyahu came close to forming a nationalist government last week, in keeping with the election results. 65 of the 109 Zionist-party Knesset seats (60%) went to nationalist or religious parties, while only 40% went to Kadima, Labor and Meretz, on the left-center side of the political spectrum.

Kadima - Out; Labor - Unsure However, Netanyahu has never hidden his desire to form a unity government with Kadima and/or Labor. Kadima turned him down repeatedly, but Labor – fresh off its worst electoral showing in history, with only 13 MKs – is considering Netanyahu’s latest offer. The party is currently split on the issue, and the fateful vote will take place on Tuesday among the Central Committee membership.

“If my opinion is not accepted, I will still remain in the party,” Barak said, but added, “I think you must ask this question of those who have threatened more than once that the party would split.”

Allied with Barak in support of joining the coalition are former party leader Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, Barak’s stalwart ally Shalom Simchon (Ministers of Infrastructures and Agriculture, respectively), and Histadrut Labor Union Chief Ofer Eini.

Even before the proposal comes to a vote, Barak announced on Sunday the formation of a team, headed by Eini, to negotiate with the Likud over the terms on which Labor would enter the government.

Leading the Opposition Among those leading the opposition to joining the government is another ex-party leader, Amir Peretz, as well as MKs Eitan Cabel, Ophir Pines, Shelly Yechimovitch, Avishai Braverman and Education Minister Yuli Tamir. They claim that the party will be neutralized by playing second-fiddle to both the Likud and Kadima, and will not be able to regain national power for a very long while afterwards.

Netanyahu Promises Negotiations with PA Netanyahu has made an overly generous offer to Labor, including five ministerial portfolios for the party's 13 MKs, including the Defense Ministry for Barak. It also includes full cooperation between Netanyahu and Barak on all security issues, and a promise to negotiate with the Palestinian Authority about the formation of a Palestinian state.

Among the Likud’s “natural” coalition partners, Shas, Yisrael Beiteinu and the Jewish Home have welcomed the possible inclusion of Labor, citing the need to have a broad consensus for governing the country during these critical times. However, the National Union is not likely to join the government under such circumstances – despite Netanyahu’s promises to welcome in his government the parties that recommended him to President Shimon Peres as the best candidate to form a government.

“I have no objection to a broad government,” National Union leader MK Yaakov Katz (Ketzaleh) said last week, “nor to additional coalition partners who accept our coalition guidelines" - implying objections to those who do not accept his guidelines. The National Union is against talks for the creation of a Palestinian state or the giving up of territory.

Katz said he did not expect Netanyahu to violate his promises to the National Union: “I hope that he will keep his promise to the voters that he would form a government based on his natural partners. He must be loyal to the voters, to the parties that recommended him to the president, and to his promises not to hurt those parties.”

Still Up in the Air Observers are unable to predict at this stage whether the proposal to join the Netanyahu government will or will not pass in the Labor Central Committee.