Independence faction 311.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Coalition negotiations between the Likud and the newly formed Independence faction already began late
Monday in an effort to replace the three Labor ministers who resigned from the government earlier in the day: Industry,
Trade and Labor Minister Binyamin Ben- Eliezer, Welfare and Social Services
Minister Isaac Herzog and Minority Affairs Minister Avishay
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Ehud Barak received a commitment from Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to keep him as
It appeared that his close ally,
Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon, would be promoted to Ben-Eliezer’s job, and
Ben-Eliezer’s current deputy Orit Noked, who represents Labor’s kibbutz sector,
would replace Simhon.
Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilna’i will keep his
present responsibilities for the home front while being promoted to minority
MK Einat Wilf, who is on maternity leave, will chair
the Independence faction and will apparently become chairwoman of the Knesset
Education Committee in several months, when she was supposed to receive the post
under the coalition agreement between the Likud and Labor.
Shas asked to
receive the Welfare and Social Services portfolio, but Netanyahu intends to keep
it for the Likud. He will hold the post for a few weeks and then bestow it upon
a Likud minister-without-portfolio, deputy minister or MK who proves his or her
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Whatever deal is worked out with Barak’s allies must be
submitted to the Knesset secretariat by Tuesday afternoon in order to be brought
to a vote in the Knesset on Wednesday afternoon, when the three departing
ministers’ resignations take effect.
Earlier on Monday, Barak ended an era when he announced at a
surprising Knesset press conference that he and four of his allies were leaving
the Labor Party and forming a new faction called Independence.
his allies said they could no longer function in Labor due to the constant
threats by ministers and MKs to break up the party if it did not leave Netanyahu’s coalition.
In meetings over the past two
weeks at Netanyahu’s residences in Jerusalem and Caesarea, Barak, the prime
minister and his chief of staff Natan Eshel hatched the plan to split Labor,
which they kept a closely guarded secret until Monday
Netanyahu’s associates denied reports that he had promised Barak
he would enable him to run on the Likud’s list for the next Knesset.Netanyahu: Government has become "much stronger"
The prime minister told the Likud faction that his government had ironically become “much
stronger” with the departure of eight Labor MKs from the coalition, because the
remaining 66 coalition lawmakers still wanted to be a part of it. He said this
would convey to the international community that his government was stable, and
there was no point in waiting for it to fall.
“The entire world knows,
and so do the Palestinians, that this government will be here for the coming
years, and it is with this government that it will have to conduct the peace
process,” Netanyahu said. “I want to have [a peace process] and advance it on
the basis of promoting our interests of achieving security and
Netanyahu thanked the ministers who quit and said that despite
their political disagreements, he had enjoyed working with them. He praised them
for what he said were their many professional accomplishments.
press conference, Barak said he had never intended to leave Labor and that he
loved many of the party’s people, but that he was tired of apologizing for
remaining in the government.
He compared himself to former prime
ministers David Ben-Gurion, Shimon Peres and Ariel Sharon, who all left their
political parties and formed new ones.
“We are leaving today to
independence,” Barak said. “We are leaving to a faction, movement and –
eventually – a party that will be centrist, Zionist and democratic and act
according to the legacy of Ben-Gurion.”
Barak denounced his critics in
Labor who he said wanted it to go more and more to the Left. Wilf said the five
MKs had decided that the best way to advance the diplomatic process was with the
Simhon, who has chaired the Labor faction over the
past year, said it had become four or five separate factions acting
independently. He said that at times, he was the only Labor MK voting with the
“People ask if we are destroying Labor,” Simhon said. “We
aren’t destroying Labor.
Labor was destroyed when a minority group
refused to accept a decision of 2,500 members at a Labor convention [to enter
the coalition].”Rebecca Anna Stoil contributed to this report.
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