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(photo credit: AP)
Labor chairman Ehud Barak intends to send an olive branch to the four rebellious MKs in his party upon his return from the United States on Wednesday, officials close to him said Monday.
Barak's associates said that following his return, the first meeting would be set up between the rebels and a team appointed last week to try to persuade them to remain in Labor. The committee includes Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon, Labor director-general Weizmann Shiri and attorney Eran Hermoni.
Shiri lashed out on Monday at Labor MK Daniel Ben-Simon, who attended Sunday's rebel rally and issued a three-month ultimatum for the government to adopt Labor's ideology or for Barak to remove the party from the coalition. Ben-Simon would give the four MKs the fifth necessary to split legally and obtain government funding.
"There has never been anyone, no matter how veteran they are, who can try to dictate the agenda of Labor's leader," Shiri said. "It's unfortunate that Ben-Simon wasn't more careful. It's interesting to ponder what the [former Haaretz] journalist Ben-Simon would have written about Ben-Simon the politician." Asked what could happen during the three months that would satisfy him, Ben-Simon said progress in the peace process was key ahead of the January 24 Palestinian election.
"I am hoping for something that can all of a sudden reunify the party," Ben-Simon said. "You have to believe in miracles if you live in this country, and I do." Labor rebel MKs said they were touched that Ben-Simon came to their event, and they were not upset that he did not offer to join them in splitting the party immediately. They said that even if Ben-Simon had joined them, chances are a split would not have happened for three months anyway, due to efforts to reunify the party.
The rebels said that as pleased as they were that Ben-Simon had endorsed their effort, they were hoping to obtain the support of a bigger fish: Barak's No. 2 in the party, Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog.
Herzog has shown greater independence in recent weeks and even sparred openly on key issues with Barak, his former political ally. A spokesman for the rebels denied a report that they had offered Herzog the chair of the new party they intend to form, but he said that Herzog would be very welcome to join their leadership.
"There is no hierarchy among the MKs," the spokesman said. "[MKs] Amir Peretz and Ophir Paz-Pines are both leaders and Herzog would be welcome to join them." Ma'ariv reported on Tuesday that Labor rebel MK Yuli Tamir had discussed joining Kadima with Kadima council chairman Haim Ramon. Her spokesman said that Tamir met Ramon to discuss his former legislation on compensating evacuated settlers. The spokesman denied that they discussed politics, but Ramon told the newspaper that they did indeed speak about Labor's fate.