Natan Eshel attempting to fix Netanyahu-Barak rift

Former chief of staff engages in shuttle diplomacy to resolve reported dispute that may lead to early elections.

October 3, 2012 22:02
2 minute read.
Netanyahu and Barak in Sinai after attack.

Netanyahu and Barak in Sinai 390. (photo credit: Avi Ohayon/GPO)


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Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s former chief of staff Natan Eshel engaged in shuttle diplomacy between his ex-boss and Defense Minister Ehud Barak Wednesday in an effort to resolve a dispute between the two that could lead to early elections.

Eshel has good relations with Barak and was the architect of the short-lived national unity government with Kadima that prevented elections from being declared in May.

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The dispute broke out Tuesday morning when, in a conversation with Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz that was leaked to the press, Netanyahu criticized Barak for undermining him in meetings in the United States.

The fight intensified Wednesday when Likud ministers called on Netanyahu to fire the Independence Party head, saying the prime minister told them that Barak had defied him at a critical time for Israel’s relations with the US.

But the defense minister made a point of refraining from escalating the tension with Netanyahu. The Independence ministers and MKs he sent to meet journalists on Wednesday downplayed the crisis and noticeably attacked the finance minister, and not the prime minister.

“Instead of igniting conflicts between people, Steinitz should be working on passing the budget,” Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Shalom Simhon said, calling Steinitz Netanyahu’s poodle.

MK Einat Wilf called the purported feud “a nonstory.”


She said Barak’s views had not changed and that Barak had told her his partnership with Netanyahu was still strong.

“There is only tension with the finance minister, which has been building because of their disagreement over the budget,” she said.

Barak’s office released a statement saying he was working to strengthen relations with the US, stressing that security cooperation was at the heart of these efforts.

“The defense minister is attempting to lower tensions between Jerusalem and Washington and to fortify American support toward Israel’s security,” the Defense Ministry statement said.

“Barak’s efforts have had a positive result, and he intends to continue with those efforts.”

Likud officials said a reference in the statement stressing the need for bipartisan support from Congress was an attempt to paint Netanyahu as a Republican who had harmed Israel’s relations with Obama and key Democrats. But Barak’s associates said the reference was standard and had been taken out of context and proportion.

Meretz leader MK Zehava Gal-On dismissed the reported feud between Netanyahu and Barak as “staged and coordinated ahead of the elections so Barak can run with the Independence Party as a make-believe opposition to Netanyahu, and with that take votes from the Center- Left bloc.”

Gal-On said her allegations would be proven when “right after the election, Barak will fall back into Netanyahu’s arms, and crawl back to Netanyahu’s government alongside [Labor leader Shelly] Yacimovich and [Yair] Lapid.”

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