In a last ditch effort to convince Labor Party member to support a coalition deal with Likud Chairman and Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu, Labor leader Ehud Barak on Tuesday declared that a Party of 13 MKs can have no real room to express its voice in the opposition.
During the last election, held on February 10, the Labor party garnered a disappointing 13 seats in the Knesset out of the total 120. In the previous Knesset, the Labor Party had 19 seats.
The coalition deal struck early Tuesday between Barak and Netanyahu was to be brought before the Labor Central Committee for a vote later in the day.
As part of his efforts to rally support for the deal, Barak met with the representatives of the party's Kibbutzim sector on Tuesday, telling them that "the choice is not whether or not to lead the opposition, but rather it is a choice between being a fifth wheel on the opposition wagon, crushed uncomfortably between Kadima and Meretz, or being a central force in a right-wing government and influencing a policy that is suitable for the state of Israel."
"Life is not a movie, nor is it a reality show," the Labor leader went on to say. "We must ask ourselves what is right for the country and what is right for the party, and for us."
Should the party join the coalition, Barak continued, "we will ensure that we don't miss diplomatic opportunities and that we don't get dragged into irreversible military adventures."
The Labor leader also addressed the global economic crisis in his speech, saying that "if we promise the people real solutions, there is a moral question of why we aren't providing them. Think honestly what will happen if we remain outside [of the coalition]."
Barak lashed out at those within his party who feel that Labor can only rehabilitate itself in the opposition, arguing that he does not understand the reasoning behind this belief.
The Kibbutzim sector representatives who attended that conference voiced their criticism over the coalition deal, calling it an "act of deception." One of the representatives said that "it looks like a draft for a change committee in the kibbutz. An initial draft for a closed forum. It's not serious, it is political deception."
During a debate ahead of the vote, one of the opponents of the deal, lawmaker Shelly Yacimovitch, warned that joining the coalition would further erode Labor's already flagging support by making it an accessory to a hard-line government.
"We are entering this government as a third wheel, as a wagging tail, not more than that," she said.
Netanyahu has been a vocal critic of the outgoing government's peace talks with the Palestinians, saying conditions are not ripe for a deal.
But he appears to be softening his line as he courts moderates. A broader coalition would bring stability to the government because it would not be hostage to the demands of smaller partners. It also would enjoy more international credibility with some members committed to peace talks.
Netanyahu has so far wrapped up deals with two hard-line coalition allies. Without Labor, he is projected to have no more than 65 of parliament's 120 lawmakers in his coalition.
Under the proposed coalition deal with Labor, Israel would draft a comprehensive plan for Mideast peace, resume peace talks and commit itself to existing peace accords, Labor officials said. Barak would continue serving as defense minister and other veteran Labor lawmakers would be assured ministerial jobs.
Barak initially declared the party would serve outside the government as a responsible, serious and constructive opposition.
But with his own personal fortunes inside the party in question and Netanyahu eager to soften the hard-line edge the current coalition lineup projects, Barak has switched gears. He says Israel would be better served by a broad government including Labor than a narrow coalition of hard-liners.
Labor dominated Israel's political and economic life for the first half of its history and was the party that signed peace accords with the Palestinians and Jordan.
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