La­bor teams with Ne­tanyahu

The Washington Times Weekly - - International Perspective - BY JOSHUA MITNICK

TEL AVIV | Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter­des­ig­nate Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu won a key victory March 24 in form­ing a new gov­ern­ment by per­suad­ing De­fense Min­is­ter Ehud Barak and his dovish La­bor Party to join the coali­tion.

Mr. Barak, who will re­tain the de­fense port­fo­lio, will serve as a po­lit­i­cal coun­ter­bal­ance to Mr. Ne­tanyahu’s hard-line and re­li­gious coali­tion part­ners, most notably ul­tra­na­tion­al­ist Avig­dor Lieber­man, the for­eign min­is­ter­des­ig­nate.

With La­bor in the coali­tion, Mr. Ne­tanyahu will have po­lit­i­cal lever­age to fend off far-right sup­port­ers of the gov­ern­ment who op­pose ne­go­ti­a­tions with Is­rael’s Arab neigh­bors, an­a­lysts say.

“I won’t be any­one’s fig leaf or any­one’s third wheel,” Mr. Barak said be­fore the La­bor Party’s 680-507 vote to join the Ne­tanyahu gov­ern­ment. “We will be the coun­ter­weight that will guar­an­tee that we won’t have a nar­row right-wing gov­ern­ment, but a real gov­ern­ment that will take care of the state of Is­rael.”

Mr. Barak’s rep­u­ta­tion as a tough de­fense min­is­ter is also seen as boost­ing Mr. Ne­tanyahu as Is­rael seeks to con­tain Iran’s ef­forts to be­come a re­gional power.

In­stead of rest­ing on a nar­row right­ist ma­jor­ity of about 65 mem­bers, the ad­di­tion of La­bor gives Mr. Ne­tanyahu the op­por­tu­nity to head a gov­ern­ment con­trol­ling more than 70 of 120 seats in par­lia­ment, rep­re­sent­ing a left-right com­bi­na­tion of the Is­raeli po­lit­i­cal spec­trum.

It re­mains un­cer­tain how much La­bor — which won 13 seats and is the fourth largest party — can moderate the gov­ern­ment.

Mr. Ne­tanyahu is “try­ing to look like some­one who as­pires to peace,” wrote Yoel Mar­cus, a po­lit­i­cal colum­nist in the left-wing Ha’aretz daily news­pa­per. “He was wise to use the La­bor Party and Barak as an al­ibi.”

The Ne­tanyahu-Barak al­liance comes al­most a decade af­ter the two par ty leaders fought a bit­ter elec­tion con­test in which Mr. Barak ended Mr. Ne­tanyahu’s first term as prime min­is­ter.

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