Labor teams with Netanyahu
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.