Labor ministers: No progress on peace, no coalition
Ultimatum comes on the heels of reports that U.S. officials are furious with Defense Minister Ehud Barak over stalled peace talks.
Three ministers from the Labor Party called on Defense Minister Ehud Barak yesterday to tell Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the Labor Party, which Barak heads, will quit the government unless the peace process moves forward.
An even stormier meeting is expected when Labor MKs meet today.
Ministers Avishay Braverman, Isaac Herzog and Benjamin Ben-Eliezer called for the ultimatum after Haaretz reported yesterday that the White House and the U.S. State Department are furious with Barak over the stalled peace talks. Several sources confirmed that the Obama administration sees Barak as having misled it about his ability to convince the Netanyahu government to move the peace process forward.
State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley said yesterday that the administration would continue working with Barak.
"We have tremendous respect for Minister Barak and he remains a main channel of communication between the U.S. and Israel," Crowley said. "We will continue working with him on a full range of issues of mutual interest for both countries." But several other administration officials have contacted Haaretz to confirm the administration's disappointment with Barak.
Crowley briefed several Israeli journalists yesterday, partly in response to a request by Barak's office, which was giving reporters Crowley's phone number. Braverman, who serves as minister of minority affairs, called on Barak to hold a Labor Party convention immediately, which would vote on the ultimatum.
"The time has come for us to stand up for ourselves and speak clearly," he said. "If we don't do so, Netanyahu will remain tied to the right-wing forum of seven and will submit daily to the extortion of Shas and of [Avigdor] Lieberman on every significant matter. Our time has come to impose an ultimatum."
Speaking at a meeting of Labor ministers, Braverman told Barak: "Your mistaken strategy to serve as an intermediary between Netanyahu and the Americans has ended in failure. Not only is there no peace process, but we have sustained a serious blow on security issues. The bottom line is that your conduct vis-a-vis the Americans has caused great damage to the State of Israel, and there is no chance of renewing negotiations." Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer suggested giving the government until April before the Labor Party quits.
"If there is no political progress within several months, we have to quit the government," he said. Social Affairs Minister Isaac Herzog, who also supports the ultimatum, said Netanyahu "must understand that his government is in danger."
Meanwhile, Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas traded accusations over the reason for the stalled peace talks.
Abbas told a Palestinian television station that if Netanyahu had had good intentions and the government had been serious about final-status negotiations, an agreement could have been reached within two months.
After the broadcast, Netanyahu said he was willing to hold direct talks with Abbas.