Ben-Eliezer: Only threat by Labor can ignite peace process

Trade minister reveals that he and other Labor MKs do not intend to leave ministries, but to push PM to make diplomatic concessions.

Ben-Eliezer (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The Labor Party’s recent threats to leave Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s coalition are intended to pressure him to take steps that could enable diplomatic negotiations with the Palestinians to resume, Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said in closed conversations on Monday.
Ben-Eliezer and other Labor ministers have warned this week that if direct talks are not restarted soon, the party will quit the government. However, Ben-Eliezer revealed privately that he and other Labor ministers were not intending to leave their ministries, but to push Netanyahu to make diplomatic concessions.
“The only way Bibi will do anything is if we set a date when we could leave the coalition and he believes the threat is real,” Ben-Eliezer said. “Until now he hasn’t taken seriously that we could leave.”
Ben-Eliezer said that if there would no longer be any diplomatic progress, Labor should leave as soon as possible. In an interview with Army Radio, he gave multiple dates on which the party might leave.
“At the beginning of March, I will know if we are staying or going,” Ben-Eliezer said in the interview. “Labor will leave the government within a month or two if there is not significant progress in the diplomatic process. If the negotiations are advanced, we will support it. But if not, we are out. I will be the first to leave, and I will drag the rest of Labor after me.”
Labor chairman Ehud Barak released a statement at 11:30 p.m. on Sunday, agreeing for the first time to hold a Labor convention that could decide whether or not the party would stay in the coalition. But despite requests to hold the convention within a month, he said he would hold it only within three.
“We are pushing with full force for the advancement of the diplomatic process, and this will require decisions when the time comes,” Barak told the Labor faction on Monday.
At the meeting, Barak urged his fiercest critics in the Labor faction, Minority Affairs Minister Avishay Braverman and MK Daniel Ben-Simon, to quit the government and the Knesset respectively.
“Whoever cannot follow the rules should do what [former Labor MK] Ephraim Sneh did and leave their mandate to the party, or what [former MK] Ophir Paz-Pines did and quit the government,” Barak said. “No one represents himself in the Knesset or the cabinet. They represent the party.”
Barak was angry at Braverman for accepting as fact a Haaretz story about White House officials being mad at Barak, which was later denied.
He was upset with Ben-Simon for being the only coalition MK who voted against the 2011-2012 biennial state budget.
Braverman responded to Barak that he was “putting a mirror before you so you will see what the public thinks about you.”
“I, unlike others, act according to my conscience and principles,” Ben-Simon said. “We are sitting in a right-wing government that has shamed and isolated Israel. I will not vote with the coalition, and I won’t quit the Knesset. History will judge who was correct and who lived a lie.”