Barak blocks Labor from ruling out joining Likud gov't

Likud officials say move may be intended to leave door open to a return to government if Netanyahu becomes the next prime minister.

ehud barak 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
ehud barak 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Labor chairman Ehud Barak raised eyebrows when he went out of his way to prevent the Labor central committee from passing a proposal that would have ruled out Labor joining a government led by Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu. The Labor central committee convened Sunday to pass a proposal by MK Ephraim Sneh that included a clause saying that Labor would not remain in a government that would not advance the peace process. Barak sent his ally, former MK Moshe Shahal, to present a proposal without the controversial clause. The committee ended up not voting because Barak's other ally, Labor Secretary-General Eitan Cabel, let unknown Labor activists speak until the crowd dwindled due to lack of interest. Likud and Labor MKs speculated Monday about why it was so important to Barak to prevent the clause from passing. Likud officials suggested it was because Barak wanted to leave the door open to returning to the Defense Ministry if, as polls suggest, the Likud wins the next election and Netanyahu becomes prime minister. Labor MKs connected Barak's behavior to his tenure in the current government. Some said he opposed the clause because he wanted to remain in the government even if the diplomatic process following the Annapolis summit reached a stalemate. Others said he resisted the clause because he wanted to leave the government despite the peace process. Barak's associates said the real reason was that he did not want to pass a proposal that would raise the possibility that another party could win the next election. They said it was better to word the proposal positively, saying that Labor would work to advance peace. "The Likud people should not compliment themselves," a Barak associate said. "If the polls were right, Netanyahu would already be prime minister." Barak himself said in private conversations that the real reason he avoided a vote was because most of the people in the crowd were supporters of his rival, former Labor chairman Amir Peretz, who would have voted for Sneh's proposal and embarrassed Barak politically. Sneh complained to the Labor faction on Monday about Barak's and Cabel's behavior. Sneh attended Barak's meeting early Sunday with British Foreign Secretary David Milleband and Barak did not make an effort to persuade Sneh to change his proposal. "No one made an effort to reach an agreement with me," Sneh told the faction. "The grave result is that a week before Annapolis, Labor preferred to have no opinion on the summit than to endorse my opinion." Barak declined to apologize to Sneh. He told the faction that "what Sneh said is important and must be considered." Cabel apologized to Sneh. He told the faction that he prevented the vote because he was embarrassed by the low turnout and not because of any orders from above. "The experience I had of seeing only 250 central committee members come out of 2500 and then how few of them were left after an hour was my saddest experience since I became secretary-general," Cabel told the faction. "When I saw that the speakers were talking to the wall, I decided it was disrespectful. I don't work for the party chairman or anyone else."