(photo credit: Knesset Website)
In a stormy three-hour Labor faction meeting at the Knesset on Wednesday, the divided party united behind two demands that would make it possible for Labor to support Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's land reform plan.
Labor chairman Ehud Barak will ask Netanyahu to decrease the amount of land that would be sold from the 800,000 dunams (80,000 hectares) currently in the bill that is set for a vote on Monday. He will also ask that the land be leased long-term instead of sold.
Barak said that if he received commitments from the prime minister to make the changes by the time the bill reached its final readings, there was no reason for Labor to oppose the legislation. But Labor rebel MKs, who attended a faction meeting for the first time in two months, said the changes must be made immediately to obtain their votes.
"When we return to power in 2012, we will change the reform," Barak told the faction in a statement later mocked by his opponents in the room. "If we were in power, the bill would be much different. But meanwhile, there are more important issues the government is dealing with. We are part of a government with a coalition agreement and agreements must be kept."
After Netanyahu was forced to withdraw the bill last week when he did not have a majority, he threatened to fire any ministers who did not support the bill. But ministers Isaac Herzog and Avishay Braverman still spoke against the reform in the meeting.
The rebel MKs showed up at the meeting with dozens of party activists who lobbied lawmakers to oppose the bill. They shouted at Barak and Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon on their way into the meeting.
"We busted our butts for Labor in the election campaign and you rewarded us by selling us out," one activist shouted at Simhon, who countered that he made clear in the Labor primary that he supported the bill, and he got elected on that basis.
The rebel MKs noted that the opposition to Barak had increased substantially, and that on this issue, only Simhon was on his side.
MK Shelly Yacimovich, who wavers between supporting the coalition and the rebels, verbally sparred with Barak throughout the meeting.
Earlier Wednesday, Yacimovich gave a fiery speech on the Knesset floor that was seen as a sign she was considering leaving Labor. She endorsed the so-called Mofaz Bill that would allow a smaller number of MKs to break off from a large party. But she made clear later that she was not considering splitting from her party.
"There is nothing holy about staying in a party," she said in the speech. "A party is merely an ideological and political home."