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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Prime Minister-designate Binyamin Netanyahu will have no choice but to ask President Shimon Peres for two more weeks to form a government, after he renewed his effort to bring Labor into his coalition on Wednesday.
Following consultations with Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz, Beit Hanassi officially set midnight Sunday as the final deadline for Netanyahu to form a government.
But that deadline became irrelevant when Labor secretary-general Eitan Cabel announced that the convention that would decide whether the party joins the government would not be held until Tuesday.
Between now and then, Barak will work to persuade Labor MKs and activists that joining Netanyahu's government is in the best interests of both the country and the party. He had already begun to do so in a meeting with key political allies Wednesday night.
Barak officially declared his support for Labor joining the government Wednesday evening in a press release.
The statement was issued three weeks after he had announced at Jerusalem's King David Hotel that Labor would be a "responsible and serious opposition" due to the verdict of the voters that brought Labor down from 19 seats to 13 in the February 10 election.
"The good of the country, in light of all the challenges facing us - diplomatic, economic and social issues - requires Labor to seriously consider joining the government, and a decision will be made in the party's institutions," Barak said.
"We are all emissaries of the party and no one is above it. Most of the country's citizens and most Labor voters want to see the party be a partner to the country's leadership."
Barak's press statement came eight hours after Netanyahu issued a statement of his own, calling upon Labor to join the government.
"The Labor Party has many leading figures who are experienced and have much to contribute on security, diplomatic, economic and social issues," Netanyahu said.
"Their presence in the government would greatly strengthen the country's leadership at this juncture, and would significantly enhance Israel's efforts to successfully meet great challenges standing in its path."
Netanyahu has offered Labor five portfolios including defense, two deputy ministers and a Knesset committee chairmanship, even though it is possible there won't even be eight Labor MKs who would support the government if Barak's proposal to join it passes at the convention.
Labor MKs Ophir Paz-Pines, Eitan Cabel, Amir Peretz, Shelly Yacimovich and Yuli Tamir fiercely attacked Barak's effort to bring the party into the government and vowed to defeat his proposal at the convention.
Besides those five legislators, Social Welfare Minister Isaac Herzog and MKs Avishay Braverman, Orit Noked, and Daniel Ben-Simon have also expressed opposition to joining the coalition, but Barak's associates believe they will end up supporting the proposal.
The Labor Youth organization began efforts to pass a proposal that would start the process of toppling Barak at the convention.
"Barak's attempt to crawl into the government is killing Labor," Tamir said. "He has abandoned his faith in Labor's path, so he shouldn't be allowed to decide its future."
Sources close to Barak expressed confidence that he could pass the proposal, albeit by a small margin. Histadrut Labor Federation chief Ofer Eini will lead Barak's effort to pass the proposal, stressing the need for Labor to be in the coalition to deal with the economic crisis.
Likud MKs criticized Netanyahu in closed conversations for offering so many portfolios to a fraction of a party.
"He is paying way too much for damaged goods," a Likud MK said.
But Netanyahu's associates said he felt he needed Barak at his side due to the security situation, especially the threat from Iran. They said his decision to pursue Barak was reinforced in his recent meetings with IDF Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi and other top security officials.
Likud sources said Netanyahu would still try to bring in all the parties on the Right, except for the National Union, which Barak has ruled out. Netanyahu intends to build a coalition of 70 MKs - 61 from the Right and nine from Labor.
The Likud's coalition negotiating team met late Wednesday night with representatives of United Torah Judaism and continued informal contacts with Shas, reporting progress with both parties.
A Shas minister said his party supported Labor joining the coalition and had agreed to stall the coalition talks to bring about a national-unity government.
"Labor is worth waiting for, because we need a stable government," the Shas minister said. "In a coalition of 70 MKs, Shas will once again hold the balance of power. If there are only 61 MKs in the coalition, we would be less important, because every MK would hold the balance of power."
A Barak associate said he would not insist that Kadima also join the government as a precondition for Labor joining. Kadima officials reiterated Wednesday night that the party would remain in the opposition even if Labor entered the government.
"I hope Labor's leadership and institutions are stronger than the party chairman and won't allow the party to join a right-wing extremist government," said Kadima faction chairman Yoel Hasson.