PM faces ultimatum from Labor ministers

September deadline for "significant breakthrough" with Palestinians or Syria.

March 14, 2010 03:21
2 minute read.
herzog 298.88

herzog 298.88. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

The Labor Party will leave Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s coalition if serious diplomatic progress is not made by the time the 10-month West Bank construction moratorium ends in September, Labor ministers warned over the weekend.

The ministers expressed concern over the failure to ignite talks with the Palestinians due to the crisis over plans to build 1,600 housing units in Jerusalem’s Ramat Shlomo neighborhood. They are especially worried that if Netanyahu restarted West Bank building, they would not be able to justify staying in the coalition to their constituents.

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“I estimate that if by the end of September no significant breakthrough has been reached on the Palestinian or the Syrian track, Labor would have to reconsider its place in the government,” Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog told The Jerusalem Post on Saturday night, confirming statements he was reported to have made in recent closed-door Labor forums.

In addition to the lack of diplomatic progress, Labor ministers have complained about the recent cabinet decision to place the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron and Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem on a list of national heritage sites to be renovated. They were also upset about plans to pass another two-year state budget, and that they were not consulted regarding a crisis over a conversion bill.

Labor chairman Ehud Barak has reportedly discussed the issues with Netanyahu in recent days. Barak was joined by Herzog and Industry, Trade, and Labor Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer in fiercely criticizing the Ramat Shlomo construction plan in Wednesday’s security cabinet meeting.

The Labor leader’s closest allies, Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon and Ben-Eliezer, both complained in radio interviews on Thursday about problems with Netanyahu. Simhon said the problems had come sooner in Netanyahu’s term than he had expected.

Labor rebel MKs Eitan Cabel, Amir Peretz and Daniel Ben-Simon have been pressuring Herzog and Minorities Affairs Minister Avishay Braverman to quit the coalition in September. The rebel lawmakers have told the two ministers that quitting then could help their campaigns in the next Labor leadership race.

A large group of pensioners signed a petition calling for Labor to quit the coalition last week.

But a source close to Barak downplayed the threat and said Labor had no plans to leave the government any time soon.

“There is no need for an ultimatum,” the source said. “Barak is working to restart the negotiations with the Palestinians, and then there won’t be such complaints.”

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