Netanyahu and Barak make final push for unity government

Monday, March 23, 2009 |  Israel Today Staff

Negotiating teams representing Likud leader and incoming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Labor Party leader and outgoing Defense Minister Ehud Barak met on Tuesday in a final push to form a national unity government.

Barak has voiced his readiness to join a Netanyahu-led government, and the Likud leader has said he would like to have Barak remain defense minister as regional threats escalate.

But only a small portion of the Labor Party supports Barak in his endeavor, with the majority pointing out that the difference between the socialist, land-for-peace oriented Labor Party and the capitalist, Land of Israel-oriented Likud Party are too great at this time of global economic upheaval and an accelerating peace process.

Labor is scheduled to hold an internal vote on Tuesday whether or not to follow Barak's lead in this matter. If the vote goes against Barak, he has promised to comply with the wishes of the majority of his party.

But if the vote supports Barak, there are widespread speculations that about half of Labor's Knesset members could leave the party, further weakening it following an abysmal showing at the polls in February.

Netanyahu has been keen to form a national unity government after the last general election suggested that is what the public desires. But Tzipi Livni, leader of the next Knesset's largest faction, Kadima, has rebuffed every attempt by Netanyahu to bring her into his cabinet.

The primary sticking point between Netanyahu and Livni has been the former's refusal to commit to the creation of a Palestinian Arab state at this time. Livni insists the birth of "Palestine" must be the overriding priority of the next government.

It is unclear at this point how Netanyahu and Barak will compromise on this point, as the Labor Party is the originator of the land-for-peace process, and clearly supports the creation of a Palestinian state.

However, Barak was prime minister when Israel offered Yasser Arafat nearly all of the land he demanded in an effort to wrap up the peace process at Camp David in the summer of 2000. Arafat reject the offer, and instead launched the Al Aqsa Intifada, so Barak is familiar with the problem of Palestinian intransigence and noncompliance.

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