Following Netanyahu Threat, Barak Pledges Labor Will Support Land Reforms

Netanyahu threatens to fire ministers from Likud and other coalition parties over withdrawn bill.

Defense minister and Labor Party chairman Ehud Barak called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from a European trip late Wednesday and promised that Labor would support the PM's land reform bill in the Knesset next week.

Earlier, Netanyahu threatened to fire ministers from Likud and other coalition parties after he was forced to withdraw the bill Wednesday because many coalition MKs were absent for the Knesset vote.

Netanyahu - through the offices of Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar - postponed the second and third votes on the reform until next Wednesday. That's the day the Knesset disbands for summer recess.

If the bill doesn't pass then, it will have to wait for the start of the winter session in October. The prime minister's main problem was the absence of, or opposition by, key Labor MKs.

Earlier in the day, Kadima MK Dalia Itzik had accused Netanyahu of having tried and failed to buy the vote. The coalition collapsed "like a house of cards," she said.

Next week Netanyahu plans to bring another bill to the Knesset for a vote that is no less important to him - the so-called Mofaz law. This legislation would make it much easier to split up Kadima's Knesset faction, but the bill has also been fiercely opposed by senior Likud members.

The leader of the fight against the Mofaz law is Improvement of Government Services Minister Michael Eitan (Likud).

"This is a law that pretends to support a stable government, but it has no purpose other than to split Kadima," Eitan told Haaretz. "Anyone who uses legislation to advance narrow party interests is turning the Knesset and the basic laws into a joke, and is ignoring all the ground rules including parliamentary decency," Eitan said.

He said proponents of the bill were "seriously undermining democracy. How can we change a basic law only in order to attempt to destroy a rival party? A rival party needs to be destroyed at the ballot box, not through the use of a basic law.

"It it passes, if we pass a bill stating that it's possible to split a party [by agreement of] only seven MKs and not a third [of the party], and then we make them all sorts of offers, the public will not think this is just another not-very-nice political game. Then the term Kalanterism will be replaced by Likudism," he said, using an Israeli term for political desertion. "That will not be our glorious moment."

Asked whether Netanyahu was acting as he was because he has no respect for parliamentary rules, Eitan said: "In the past there were prime ministers, for example Menachem Begin, who had more respect for democratic principles and the limits of the majority. They also knew how to respect the minority. I will tell not only the prime minister but also Likud members: What would you have done if they [the previous Kadima-led government], the majority, had tried to do to you what we want to do to Kadima?"