Political upheaval in Israel, Netanyahu left with thin majority

Monday, January 17, 2011 |  Ryan Jones

Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Monday separated from the Labor Party that he had previously headed, throwing the Israeli political landscape into turmoil and leaving the left wing party to slip further into obscurity.

Labor is one of Israel’s oldest and most respected political parties. But Barak lamented at Monday’s press conference that Labor had in recent years “shifted toward the Left and post-Zionism,” creating a situation the decorated soldier and former prime minister felt he could no longer be a part of.

Four senior Labor lawmakers joined Barak, and together they will form the new Independence Party, which Barak described as “centrist, Zionist and democratic.”

Barak said the Independence Party’s agenda will be “first of all the state, then the party, then the media, and only then ourselves,” playing on the frustration many Israelis feel over the fact that individual politicians are not accountable to the voters.

Barak immediately entered into negotiations with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to bring the Independence Party into the ruling coalition, and is expected to remain defense minister.

Shortly after Barak’s announcement, the remaining Labor Party ministers began resigning from Netanyahu’s government, something they had long wanted to do, but were held in check by Barak.

The split will move Labor even further to the left, and likely result in it winning even fewer seats in the next election, but it has also put Netanyahu’s government on very thin ice.

Barak’s move has resulted in Netanyahu’s ruling coalition going down from 69 out of 120 Knesset seats to just 61 out of 120, the narrowest of majorities.

Opposition leader Tzipi Livni of the Kadima Party crowed her approval, and insisted that Netanyahu had no choice but to call for early elections.

“This is a bad day for the Netanyahu government but I believe it’s also a hopeful day for Israel,” said Livni. “Today, Kadima again calls out loud, crystal clear and stronger than ever, for elections.”

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