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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimksi)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu could face a coalition crisis if 23 unauthorized West Bank outposts are not removed by the Knesset's return from its summer recess on October 12, Labor faction chairman Daniel Ben-Simon said Wednesday.
Ben-Simon revealed on a tour of the outposts on Tuesday that Labor chairman Ehud Barak had promised him the outposts would be removed by that deadline. In a phone interview with The Jerusalem Post, Ben-Simon warned he would take action if Barak did not keep his promise.
"If the outposts are not taken down, I will tell Barak that that we aren't expressing the will of the voters and [that] I demand that the party's institutions meet to reconsider remaining in the coalition," Ben-Simon said. "If the institutions say no, I would have to decide my future and take a different path than I have taken until now."
Ben-Simon's position is important, because if he joined the four Labor rebels, they would constitute more than a third of Labor's 13 MKs, enabling them to break away from the faction.
The rebels have been courting Ben-Simon since Labor decided to join the coalition against their will in March. But he attended Netanyahu's Bar-Ilan University speech, in which Netanyahu endorsed a Palestinian state, and has praised his diplomatic steps.
"We joined a very right-wing coalition on the condition of the peace process advancing," Ben-Simon said. "If it doesn't, I must be in sync with my conscience, and that of the 15,000 Labor members who elected me in the party primary. I want to see more than just talk. The 23 outposts are the test for this government. We have to see the Bar-Ilan speech translated into action. This is a must from my point of view."
Rebel MKs Ophir Paz-Pines, Eitan Cabel, Amir Peretz and Yuli Tamir had been scheduled to meet Wednesday night at Tamir's Tel Aviv home to plan a new political movement that they intend to establish next month. But the meeting was canceled for technical reasons.
The new movement is intended to serve as the basis for a new political party that the rebels hope will replace Labor as the main party on the Left.
A spokesman for the four MKs said that Ben-Simon had also threatened to join the rebels if Netanyahu passed his land reform and if Labor passed Barak's constitution, but that he had not honored those commitments.
The spokesman said he did not believe for a moment that Ben-Simon would keep his promise this time.
Meanwhile, Barak told an education conference in Holon on Wednesday that Israel's commitment to remove 26 outposts built after March 2001 dated back to former prime minister Ariel Sharon. Both Sharon's successor, Ehud Olmert, and Netanyahu made this pledge to the US, said Barak.
But the removal of the unauthorized outposts was also necessary for internal Israeli reasons, said Barak. "We owe it to ourselves, as a democratic society, to abide by the law," said Barak.
Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.