Labor, Likud in Marathon Talks for Coalition Deal

Labor demanding chairmanship to Knesset Constitution committee which was promised to Yisrael Beiteinu.

Labor and Likud representatives resumed coalition negotiations in Kfar Hamakabiya on Monday in a marathon bid to wrap up an agreement and ensure the former's entry into a coalition led by Benjamin Netanyahu.

"If there will be a need, we will sit here until the [Labor central committee meeting] convenes on Tuesday," said Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon, a member of the negotiating team.

"Whoever does not understand that he or she entered politics to fight for his views should not be there," Simhon said.

The Labor Party's coalition negotiating team demanded Monday that the party be given chairmanship of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, which Likud has already promised to Yisrael Beiteinu.

Labor says it wants said committee in order to use it as an instrument for "guarding the justice system."

Labor Party chairman Ehud Barak appointed coalition negotiators on Sunday and ordered them to produce a finished agreement with Likud by Tuesday, so that he can present it to the party's convention when it meets that afternoon to decide whether Labor should join a Likud-led government.

Labor and Likud negotiators will meet this morning for a marathon session to finalize details of the agreement, whose outline has already been settled by Barak and Netanyahu.

In addition to Barak retaining his current position of defense minister, Labor is demanding three other ministries - agriculture, infrastructure and the industry, trade and labor portfolio - plus one minister without portfolio. Barak and Netanyahu had agreed that Labor would receive five ministers, one deputy minister and one Knesset committee chairman, but did not sign on the specific posts.

Netanyahu was speeding up his coalition negotiations and, close to midnight Sunday, initialed an agreement with Yisrael Beiteinu.

Yisrael Beiteinu's Avigdor Lieberman is expected to be appointed foreign minister, while the party's MK Yitzhak Aharonovitch is due to become internal security minister. Yisrael Beiteinu will also receive the tourism, infrastructure and immigrant absorption portfolios, as well as chairmanship of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, which will headed by MK David Rotem.

Lieberman backed down on his earlier condition that Prof. Daniel Friedmanm remain justice minister, and compromised by agreeing to the appointment of Yaakov Neeman to the post. Neeman and Lieberman were said to share a "long-time mutual appreciation" of each other.

Yisrael Beiteinu is seen to have agreed to considerable compromises on many of the issues it had championed during its campaign, including civil unions, a solution to Jewish conversion problems and changes in the system of government.

The agreement with Netanyahu is to include a clause saying that it is valid only for a narrow government, the expansion of which would necessitate a new arrangement.

The negotiations were conducted on two tracks, one involving personal daily telephone conversations between Netanyahu and Lieberman, the other through negotiating teams. The latter contacts were particularly helpful in smoothing out differences on matters of religion and state that might have caused a rift with Shas.

Meetings were scheduled to take place Monday with the Shas negotiating team, to flesh out the final details of an agreement, including allocation of portfolios to the religious party.