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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Although some officials downplayed a report that the two largest parties in the Knesset were negotiating a merger in the hopes of blocking Likud Chairman Binyamin Netanyahu from becoming Israel's next prime minister, at least one member of the Labor Party confirmed Saturday that such talks were, in fact, under way.
Ma'ariv reported on Friday that two industrial powerhouses - Histadrut Chief Ofer Eini and Industrial Association Chairman Shraga Brosh - were holding meetings with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak to negotiate a power-sharing deal to block what many recent polls have shown to be Netanyahu's shoo-in candidacy for prime minister.
According to the Ma'ariv report, one of the possible scenarios on the table was a future unification between Kadima and Labor that would include leadership rotations similar to the national unity government of the eighties in which apparent political opposites Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Shamir traded off leadership.
But while Eini and Brosh acknowledged that they were concerned by the stability of the government in the future and that they were attempting to help Barak and Olmert find common ground, they denied that talks included the idea of a potential merger between the two parties.
"There are some people who are holding that kind of talks," said a Labor Party official. "There are all kinds of people in the political system including in Labor who are discussing the concept of a merger. Of course, there are those within the party who oppose it and those who support it, but the conversations do occur."
Even if talks were to advance, there are a number of sticking points - and no lack of bad blood - that would make such a unity plan extremely difficult. The departure of Assistant Prime Minister Haim Ramon and Knesset Chairwoman Dalia Itzik from Labor to Kadima was anything but congenial.
One Kadima official speaking to Israel Radio Friday compared the situation to marital discontent. "People who have never been married before have no problem getting married, but people who have been through a messy divorce don't tend to get married again."