Barak Poll Shows Most Laborites Content to Stay in Coalition

PM associate warns Kadima will invite Likud into government if Labor quits; Likud says it will reject offer.

A recent survey conducted by Ehud Barak, who is seeking renomination as the Labor leader, showed Monday that most Labor central committee members are unopposed to remaining in a coalition under Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

The survey also revealed that most committee members would prefer to see the coalition issue resolved only after the May 28 party primaries. Most members were opposed to early elections.

Meanwhile, an Olmert associate warned Monday that if Labor pulls out of the coalition after the party primaries, Kadima will ask Likud to join.

Several of Barak's associates, including Labor faction chair Eitan Cabel, have quoted him as saying that he is reluctant to join the government, in light of the severity of the Winograd report on the Second Lebanon War.

But the former prime minister has declined to comment on whether he would indeed join Olmert's cabinet.

Kadima intends to offer Likud Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu the defense ministry, and a protracted period before fresh elections - apparently until the end of next year.

"We will make [Likud chairman Benjamin] Netanyahu an offer he can't refuse: the security portfolio plus an agreed-upon election time, which won't be before the end of 2008," the source said.

"That way, the government will survive another relatively long period, whether Olmert continues to head it or is replaced by someone else from Kadima," he added.

"Netanyahu will reach the next elections as the one who rehabilitated the security establishment after the war in Lebanon and we will buy more time. Who knows what will happen in that time - maybe we'll bring the captives back, maybe we'll assassinate [Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan] Nasrallah, maybe there will be developments on the Iranian or Syrian front, and then who will remember the Winograd report?"

But Likud said Monday it would dismiss such a proposal out of hand, that it is meant to convince Labor not to quit the coalition, and give Labor ministers some ammunition in opposing such a move.

"A proposal like the one that Kadima is talking about could have received a positive response half a year ago - but not today, after the Winograd report," a Likud representative said Monday night.

"The Olmert government has ended its career," the representative said. "Olmert himself won't survive the final [Winograd] report, so there is nothing to discuss regarding joining the coalition."

The final report on the Second Lebanon War is due to be released in the summer.

Nonetheless, the Olmert associate was optimistic about the government's chances of survival, saying it will have no problem making it through to the Knesset's summer recess at the end of July even if Labor does quit.

The Labor party is expected to convene next week in order to discuss their official stance regarding early elections. Barak's camp, meanwhile, is putting together a compromise, asking that the issue be dealt with only after the party primaries.

For the time being, some of his associates, including Infrastructure Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, Welfare Minister Isaac Herzog, and Agriculture Minister Shalom Simchon, are warning him against committing to not joining the government. They cite what Barak already knows: if he wins the primaries, then a ministerial position would help him in the next general elections against Netanyahu.

Barak has declined to comment on whether he would indeed join Olmert's cabinet.

MK Ami Ayalon, another party chair contender, criticized Barak's silence and said, "every candidate for Labor party chair must express a clear opinion regarding the Winograd Committee's findings about Ehud Olmert in a forthright and open manner, and not through associates."

Ayalon reiterated his call for Olmert's resignation and maintained that Labor would not continue to sit in government should he be chosen party chair, and promised to work to build a national coalition without Olmert.