Barak's Atzmaut Faction Receives Four Portfolios in Coalition Government

Former Labor Chairman Ehud Barak remains defense minister in Likud-led coalition; Amir Peretz under heavy pressure to remain in Labor.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak agreed after intense negotiations on Monday night that the new Atzmaut faction formed by Barak would receive four portfolios in the current coalition government.

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

Tess Scheflan / Jini

After Barak's announcement, all of the Labor Party's remaining ministers decided to exit the government. The ministers' resignations will become valid on Wednesday.

Barak will remain the defense minister, MK Shalom Simhon will be appointed the new National Infrastructure Minister replacing resigning Labor minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, MK Matan Vilnai will receive the Minority Affairs portfolio replacing Avishay Braverman, and MK Orit Noked will be appointed the new agriculture minister, Simhon's former position.

Netanyahu will take over the welfare portfolio, which had been held by resigning Labor minister Isaac Herzog.

Coalition chairman MK Ze'ev Elkin (Likud) headed the negotiations with Atzmaut.

"The coalition agreement with the Labor Party will serve as a basis for the coalition agreement with Azmaut," Elkin said on Monday.

The new Atzmaut party has five MKs.

Four Labor MKs - Amir Peretz, Eitan Cabel, Raleb Majadele and Daniel Ben-Simon - met on Tuesday morning to consult with each other on their political futures.

It is believed that Peretz is trying to convince Cabel, Majadele and Ben-Simon to leave Labor. Peretz, however, is under heavy pressure to not take such a step.

Among others, Peretz has spoken with the three resigned Labor ministers - Braverman, Herzog and Ben-Eliezer - as well as mayors and businessmen.

Barak's resignation on Monday caught Peretz, Cabel, Majadele and Ben-Simon by surprise. For months they had tried to split off from Labor but failed to find a fifth MK required to do so.

They now face the dilemma of whether to stay in Labor or leave the party. Including the four, Labor currently has eight remaining MKs.