Barak and Netanyahu Tess Scheflan / Jini 2009
Defense Minister Ehud Barak, right, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo by Tess Scheflan / Jini
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party and Defense Minister Ehud Barak's newly formed Atzmaut faction have been conducting intensive negotiations in an attempt to present a coalition agreement as early as Monday.

The government is interested in replacing the Labor ministers who quit the government earlier Monday as quickly as possible, and plans on doing so by next Wednesday, when the ministers' resignation becomes valid. In order to vote on new appointments by Wednesday, a coalition agreement must be presented to the Knesset secretary by Monday.

Coalition chairman MK Ze'ev Elkin (Likud) has been heading the negotiations with Atzmaut, the faction Ehud Barak formed on Monday after he quit the Labor Party.

"The coalition agreement with the Labor Party will serve as a base for the agreement with Atzmaut. The fundamentals of the government will not change. Atzmaut's goal is to preserve the clauses of the former coalition agreement ," said Elkin.

Elkin said that the Labor Party had eight positions in the coalition and now that number will be reduced, since the new Atzmaut faction consists of only five Knesset members.

"For us, there is no great change in the support of the collation. Atzmaut has five supporters of the coalition and the Labor Party had seven or eight supports – the rest of the members didn't always vote with us," he said.

The agreement between Netanyahu and Barak is expected to lead to the appointment of Shalom Simchon (Atzmaut) to the post of Industry, Trade, and Labor minister instead of Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, Matan Vilnai (Atzmaut) to the post of Minority Affairs minister instead of Avishai Braverman, Orit Noked as Agriculture minister and Einat Wilf as deputy defense minister.


Earlier Monday, Barak announced that he is stepping down as Labor Party chairman to set up a new party, following months of turmoil within the weakened faction.

After Barak's announcement, all of the Labor Party's remaining ministers decided to exit the government on Monday.