The Labor-Likud Talks / Behind Enemy Lines

Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu and Labor's Ehud Barak must have been pleased yesterday. In a covert operation, they surprised the enemy and fired off a quick memorandum of understanding for a unity government - lining up the Defense Ministry, another three to four portfolios, and a joint mechanism to operate security and state affairs. Of course, this government would be without Daniel Friedmann as Lieberman's subordinate in the Justice Ministry and without the radical National Union.

After a meeting in Barak's home a few nights ago and countless telephone calls, the two completed their move yesterday. The operation was launched with Netanyahu's flattering call on Labor with all its "talent and experience" to join his government. The second stage was Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon's statement urging Barak "to consider the proposal." Then came Barak's statement, emphasizing the "good of the state," security challenges" and "partnership in leadership."

Now Labor's forces are preparing for a collision at the convention. No side will win a clear victory. If the move is adopted, Labor might split, even if unofficially. If it fails, Barak will be finished in Labor. He may retire to private business or defect to Netanyahu's government on his own or with a small faction.

Either way Labor is closer than ever to what Amos Oz called the end of its historic way. As a small insignificant faction in a right-wing, ultra-Orthodox government, it will disappear into oblivion. When Netanyahu falls they will fall with him.