Labor Joins Israeli Coalition

Israel’s Labor party has voted to join a governing coalition led by Benyamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister-designate and Likud’s leader.

The poll victory by 680 to 507 votes followed considerable debate and opposition at the Labor party headquarters in Tel Aviv on Tuesday.

It means that Netanyahu has secured enough support in the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, to form a ruling coalition.

With Labor’s support, Netanyahu has 66 seats in the 120-seat Knesset – 27 from Likud, 13 from Labor, 15 from the nationalist Yisrael Beitenu and 11 from orthodox Jewish party Shas.

Earlier in the day Ehud Barak, the Labor leader, had made a deal with Netanyahu to join the coalition – an unprecedented move to unilaterally act before gaining his party’s support.

The vote win came after frenetic speeches at the Labor conference in front of a fractured audience.

‘Not Redundant’

Barak argued for backing to join the coalition, saying: "We are responsible for the state of Israel… Unity is what this country needs.
 
"You can shout as loudly as you want to go to opposition, but the majority of the citizens of this country want to see us together with the right in the government. And the majority of Labor voters want to see us in government.

"I am not right-wing … I will not be anyone’s fig leaf and I will not be anyone’s redundant party.

"We will be a counterweight to guarantee that we do not have narrow right-wing government, but real government that takes care of the country."

Barak also refuted accusations levelled at him that he only wanted to join the coalition to continue his personal career in government.

Ayman Mohyeldin, Al Jazeera’s correspondent at the conference, said Barak proposed that it was Labor’s role and responsibility to go into balance out "what is seen as an extremely right-wing led government".

"He also made the case that he is the right man to continue on as the defence minister. That is one of the positions believed to stay with Labor" in a new government, Mohyeldin said.

Opposition

Many members of the centre-left Labor party had opposed joining a cabinet led by the right-wing Netanyahu because of his limited interest in peace negotiations with the Palestinians.

Seven of Labor’s 13 members of parliament had earlier sent a letter to Netanyahu saying: "We must inform you that you cannot count on our support regarding any agreement that you may reach with Ehud Barak."

Additionally, Barak had pledged to stay in opposition if Labor won less than 20 seats in the Knesset, the Israeli parliament.

Labor, once the dominant force in Israeli politics, won only 13 seats in elections held on February 10.

The agreement with Labor might also put Netanyahu’s previous deals with the two right-wing parties at risk, endangering the majority in the Knesset he needs to secure before the April 3 deadline he has to form a coalition.

As part of a deal between Labor and Likud, Netanyahu will reportedly commit to continuing negotiations with the Palestinians and to respect deals signed with them in the past.

Labor would get five ministries in the new government. Barak is expected to keep his post as defence minister.

(Al Jazeera and Agencies)

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