Barak Looks to Divide, Conquer Labor 'Rebels'

Pro-gov't party chairman likely to offer cabinet position to MK Braverman, to fend off opposition at home.

Labor Party chairman Ehud Barak apparently intends to offer MK Avishay Braverman a minister-without-portfolio position in a bid to divide the opposition within the party.

Labor remained divided over whether to follow Barak into the government of Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu's government on Wednesday, a day after the party's central committee approved the deal struck by Barak to bring Labor into the coalition.

Braverman was among the seven MKs who strongly objected to the deal. He had previously refused offers from Barak's associates for a ministerial appointment.

Braverman, who is close to ministers Benjamin Ben Eliezer and Isaac Herzog, said after Barak's victory Tuesday that he would not vote against the government, despite his opposition.

Braverman on Wednesday refused to say how he would respond if Barak offered him a ministerial position. "I fought very hard not to enter the government. I don't want to split the party. I've never voted against a government and won't do so now," Braverman said.

MK Ophir Pines-Paz, who objects to Labor joining the coalition, said he hoped none of the seven MKs in the group accepts a ministerial appointment. "Now that Barak is authorized to appoint ministers I can't say this is the most democratic party in the country," Pines-Paz said.

Unlike Braverman and MK Daniel Ben Simon, who said they would support the government when it was sworn in, at least four of the "rebel" MKs - Pines-Paz, Eitan Cabel, Shelly Yachimovich and Amir Peretz - are considering abstaining or absenting themselves from voting.

Barak and Netanyahu realize that not all of Labor's 13 MKs will vote for the government. However, the "rebels" are not expected to act in unison. Some of them are expected to vote against budgetary and state affairs, making it difficult for the coalition to get a majority.

"Barak will have a hard time after the government is sworn in. That's when the real test will come. We won't vote for budget cuts and for building in the settlements," one Labor MK said.

"We'll operate as an opposition within the coalition. In a month or two the farce of Labor's entering a right-wing government will be exposed," he said.

Labor members are preparing for advancing the party's primary elections. The party's constitution calls for primaries to be held within 14 months after the party loses a general election.

Figures close to Barak said he intends to defend his position as Labor chairman. Challengers include Peretz, Pines, Yachimovich, Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai and Histadrut labor federation chairman Ofer Eini.

Eini denied any intention of challenging Barak for party leadership.