Barak appoints coalition negotiators

Labor leader says he won't quit party even if Tuesday's convention decides against joining gov't.

Barak smiles at cabinet meeting 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Barak smiles at cabinet meeting 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Labor head Ehud Barak on Sunday appointed a negotiation team ahead of Tuesday's decision-making convention on beginning talks with the Likud to form a national-unity government. The team includes Histadrut Labor Federation head Ofer Eini, Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon, and attorney Alon Gellert, who served as chief legal counsel of the Prime Minister's Office under Barak. At the convention, the team will present a list of Labor's demands for would-be coalition negotiations. "The country needs unity and not a narrow right-wing government," Barak said in a statement. "I call on Kadima to also launch negotiations with Likud." The team was set to meet with Likud representatives Sunday, but any agreement reached between the sides would be brought before the party convention for approval on Tuesday, the statement added. Earlier Sunday, Barak insisted that even if, contrary to his wishes, the decision is made for Labor to sit in the opposition, he will not quit the party. "I think that questions needs to be posed to those who have tried, on more than one occasion, to split the party, not to me," said Barak before Sunday's cabinet meeting. "From my point of view, the answer to the question of whether I'll stay in the Labor party even if my opinion is not accepted is yes." Opponents of joining the government said over the weekend that they were convinced Barak would try to split the party if he lost Tuesday's vote, and Labor MK Amir Peretz demanded Sunday that the party chairman respect the convention's decision on whether or not to join Prime Minister-designate Binyamin Netanyahu's government. "It is unacceptable for a leader to convene a decision-making body and afterwards ignore it," Peretz told Army Radio. Meanwhile, Eini, who backs Labor joining a national unity government, called on Barak to serve as a professionally-appointed defense minister if the convention decides that the party should sit in the opposition. Speaking to Israel Radio, Eini rejected the criticism of the Histadrut's involvement in politics, saying that Labor was needed in the government in order to save thousands of jobs. The Labor faction is divided with seven MKs vehemently opposed to joining the coalition, four in favor and Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog and MK Orit Noked undecided. Those opposed to joining denied a Channel 2 report that if they lose on Tuesday, they would break off from Labor and form a new party called "New Labor: The Social-Democratic Party." They vowed to remain in the party but not support the government if the party joined the coalition. On Friday, Netanyahu received a two-week extension from President Shimon Peres so he could pursue talks with Labor. The new deadline to form a coalition is Sunday, April 5, only a few days before Pessah. Coalition talks with the religious parties will continue on Sunday despite the uncertainty over what Labor will do. Shas officials said it was likely that they would sign a coalition deal with Likud representatives on Sunday. Party chairman Eli Yishai called Labor MKs over the weekend to push them to join the coalition.