The Secret of How the Second Netanyahu Government Arose

If Minister Ben-Eliezer could be convinced, Barak told Netanyahu last week, Labor would join coalition.

One of the first telephone calls that Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu made on Tuesday after the votes at the Labor Party convention were counted was to Labor MK Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, who is slated to be minister of industry, trade and labor in the new government.

The two celebrated as they recalled their shared secret - the secret of how the second Netanyahu government came into being.

It began last Wednesday at a house on a quiet street in Azor, near Tel Aviv, when Netanyahu and Ben-Eliezer sneaked into the home of Netanyahu adviser Shaya Segal, who is also a friend of Ben-Eliezer, through a side door.

The visit came on the heels of several discussions between Netanyahu and Labor Party leader Ehud Barak. It was Barak who suggested that the Likud leader speak to Ben-Eliezer, who opposed joining a Netanyahu government. If Ben-Eliezer could be convinced, Barak said, Labor would be in the government.

In Azor, Ben-Eliezer suggested involving Histadrut labor federation chief Ofer Eini. A meeting was then scheduled among the union leader, Netanyahu and Barak at Barak's high-rise apartment in Tel Aviv.

Eini left that meeting in favor of Labor joining the government, and Netanyahu then publicly asked Labor to come on board. That was followed by Barak's call to convene a party convention, a process that culminated in Tuesday's vote in favor of joining the coalition.

Though it went against his nature, Ben-Eliezer maintained his silence for a week. But had he not given the green light to Barak and Netanyahu at Shaya Segal's house in Azor last week, it is very doubtful that the prime minister-designate would have been able to present a government that included Labor - something he now intends to do next Monday.

Outgoing prime minister Ehud Olmert did his best to torpedo this prospect. As long as he believed that Labor would stay out of the new coalition, he expressed support for Netanyahu. But at last Sunday's cabinet meeting, when it was clear that there was a real possibility of Barak joining the coalition, Olmert changed course, attacking the Likud chairman and saying that Barak would not be forgiven for entering a Netanyahu government. United Torah Judaism, he argued, did not intend to join the coalition, so Netanyahu had no government without Labor. Thus Barak would not only be joining the government, but creating it, Olmert said.

The day after the cabinet meeting, Likud MK and coalition negotiator Gideon Sa'ar met with UTJ representatives and asked whether they had any idea why Olmert had said what he did at the cabinet meeting. They said no. But a few hours later, they notified Sa'ar that because of provisions relating to conversion in the coalition agreement with Yisrael Beiteinu, UTJ would be staying out of the coalition.