Israel's Labour Party has voted to join Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud in a coalition following a deal made with Labour's leader, Defence Minister Ehud Barak. Netanyahu now has the majority he needs in parliament to form a government.
AFP - Israel's Labour party voted on Tuesday to join forces with Benjamin Netanyahu, giving the hawkish premier-designate the parliamentary majority needed to form a government, Israeli television reported.
Labour delegates voted 680-507 in favour of a coalition deal which the leader of the party, outgoing Defence Minister Ehud Barak, had reached earlier in the day with Netanyahu, who heads the right-wing Likud party.
The agreement will allow Netanyahu to broaden a coalition that would otherwise have been entirely dependent on support from far-right and religious parties.
Greeted with a mixture of cheers and jeers, Barak told the convention before the vote that Israel "needs unity" after last month's tight general election.
"An absolute majority of the citizens want to see us together with the right in the same government," he told delegates.
"I am not afraid of Benjamin Netanyahu, we will not be his figleaf ... We will be a counterweight that will ensure that we do not have a right-wing government," Barak said.
Netanyahu has pushed for as broad a coalition as possible amid concerns a narrow right-wing alliance would be unable to survive for long in the turbulent world of Israeli politics.
But he has failed to win over the centrist Kadima party of outgoing Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni -- the largest faction in parliament.
Labour -- the once-dominant party that suffered its worst-ever showing in the February 10 election -- should get five ministries, according to the draft accord reached by Netanyahu and Barak.
Barak, Israel's most highly decorated soldier, will keep the defence portfolio.
Barak had initially objected to joining a Netanyahu-led government, but in a stark about-face he argued last week that Labour's participation was in Israel's interests.
Under the agreement, the Netanyahu government platform will include a commitment "to reach a comprehensive regional peace agreement" and respect previous international agreements Israel has signed -- an apparent reference to accords reached with the Palestinians.
It does not commit the cabinet to working towards the creation of a Palestinian state. Netanyahu says the economic situation in the occupied West Bank should be improved before negotiations take place on other issues.
The agreement also states that the government will work against those Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank which Israeli authorities consider illegal.
Netanyahu, a former premier, has until April 3 to form a new government and had earlier signed coalition agreements with the ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beitenu and ultra-Orthodox Shas parties.
The agreement with Labour should give Netanyahu the necessary majority with support from 66 MPs in the 120-seat parliament -- 27 from Likud, 15 from Yisrael Beitenu, 11 from Shas and 13 from Labour.
But seven Labour MPs opposed to the deal threatened earlier to ignore the party whip if the central committee voted to join Netanyahu's government, which would leave him two short of the 61 seats required.
"We are facing a very dramatic decision, in my view the most dramatic decision in the past 60 years," party secretary general Eitan Cabel had warned ahead of the vote.
"If we have any will to survive, we must all vote against all those wishing to bring the house down."
MP Ophir Pines-Paz said the vote was a question of life or death for the party.
"Mister party chairman (Barak), you were given a mandate to lead us... you were not given a mandate to throw our party to history's garbage can."
Some party members accuse Barak of wanting to keep the defence portfolio at all costs, even at the expense of the party's principles.
They have dubbed Yisrael Beitenu leader Avigdor Lieberman, who has been named as foreign minister in the new government, as a racist because of repeated diatribes against Israeli Arabs.
As well as defence, Labour is due to get the ministries of social affairs, agriculture, and trade and industry, in addition to a post without a portfolio. The party will also head parliament's powerful foreign affairs and defence committee.
Date created : 2009-03-24