Barak: Labor will stay in the government

Says government's end "not far away;" states he'll deal with Winograd report in the future.

Barak 224 88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Barak 224 88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Labor chairman Ehud Barak revealed his long-awaited decision on Sunday to keep his party in Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's coalition, despite the conclusions of the Winograd Report on the Second Lebanon War. Barak decided not to hold a press conference or convene political reporters to hear his prepared statement. Instead, he relayed his decision to the public via the reporters who were waiting outside the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office Sunday morning. "I decided to remain defense minister, because I know what challenges Israel faces: Gaza, Hizbullah, Syria, Iran, Lebanon, rehabilitating the army and the diplomatic process," Barak said. "Winograd is a harsh report. There are personal and ethical ramifications and conclusions that are not simple. I will deal with them and, when the right time comes, set a date for elections," he declared. With his decision, Barak broke a promise he made twice when he was running for Labor leader - at a press conference in May at Kibbutz Sdot Yam and in a statement he made in June to earn the endorsement of Labor leadership contender Ophir Paz-Pines. "[The report] requires personal conclusions," Barak said at the time. "Olmert must seek personal conclusions and resign, as [then-IDF chief of General Staff] Dan Halutz and [former defense minister] Amir Peretz did, each in his own way. If Olmert does not [quit] by the full report's publication, we will have to end our partnership with him and work to establish a new government in the current Knesset, or alternatively, to set a date for elections." Barak said Sunday that he remembered the promise he'd made at Sdot Yam, but the situation had changed and he had decided to act differently. "I know I am disappointing some and making some happy, but I decided to do what is right for the nation, and this is what is right for the nation," Barak said. "I know I could pay a personal price for it, but I know there is a state and the IDF, which are more important for all of us and for me." Asked by a reporter when he would remove Labor from the government, he said he would make a decision on the right date to leave "at a time that is fitting and not far away." Earlier, Labor ministers cautioned him at a meeting not to set another deadline for leaving the government, as it would only cause him further problems. Despite fierce opposition to remaining in the coalition from four Labor MKs, Barak said he was not concerned about divisions in the party. He predicted that his decision would "unite the party," which he said had "a variety of opinions but the same goal." Labor secretary-general Eitan Cabel, who quit the cabinet to protest Olmert's refusal to step down after Winograd's Interim Report in April, said he was disappointed that Barak was not keeping his promise. "Barak needed to show leadership and quit the government - a necessary move following the severe results of the Second Lebanon War," Cabel said. "This was a very big mistake." Labor MK Danny Yatom went further and said he was considering quitting politics or opposing the government in the Knesset from now on. He revealed that Barak had visited his home in Kohav Yair Saturday night, and he had tried for more than an hour to persuade him to remove the party from the coalition. "I came to politics thinking naively that I could change norms that I think are unacceptable," Yatom lamented. "Now I will have to reconsider my future." MK Yoram Marciano, one of Barak's fiercest critics in Labor, slammed him for the way he announced his decision. "He showed a lack of leadership by avoiding a press conference," Marciano said. "That's not how a leader should act." MK Shelly Yacimovich, who took part in a Labor event with protest groups over the weekend alongside Paz-Pines and Yatom, said that she would launch a serious appeal for Barak to leave the government. "I am sickened by the relentless celebrations within Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's government following the Winograd Committee Report," said Yacimovich. "What I gleaned most from the commission's report is that parents have forever lost their beloved children to amateurish, reckless decision making." Olmert did not respond immediately to Barak's decision, but deputy coalition chairman Yoel Hasson, who is close to him, praised Barak for displaying "national responsibility" by preventing unnecessary elections. "He put the good of country above the good of his own political interests, as he promised," he said. Hasson added that the time was right to bring UTJ into the coalition and "stabilize the coalition." Meanwhile, opposition MKs blasted Barak for not keeping his word. They accused Barak of being afraid to initiate elections, because of his poor standing in the polls. Yediot Aharonot published a Dahaf Institute poll Friday that showed for the first time that Olmert had replaced Barak at second-place in the polls behind Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu. "As expected, Barak has run away from his responsibility," a Likud spokesperson said in a statement. "Barak is assisting the leadership that according to both the Winograd Committee and the public has failed, and he prefers his political survival to the good of the country." Likud MK Yuval Steinitz added that Barak and Olmert were both refusing to take responsibility for the war's failings. "It seems leadership is no longer leadership, that a promise is no longer a promise," said Steinitz. Likud MK Yuli Edelstein, meanwhile, charged Barak with creating the situation that led to the Second Lebanon War. "Six years prior to the war, then-prime minister Barak ordered Israel's hasty retreat from the security zone maintained by the IDF in southern Lebanon," said Edelstein. "Now he prefers to avoid taking responsibility in order to cling to his position, just like the rest of his colleagues in this government." National Religious Party (NRP) leader Zevulun Orlev, who heads the parliamentary group for implementing the Winograd Report, said he would not let Olmert's or Barak's decisions during the war go unaccounted for. He added that Barak's decision dragged Israel's political morality to new lows, and that Barak had broken a number of explicit commitments with one miserable decision. Meretz chairman Yossi Beilin called Barak's decision "shameful." "He gave up the opportunity he had to force the replacement of the prime minister and kept Olmert in a position that the Winograd Committee has concluded he cannot fill," said Beilin. Maj. Yakir Segev, one of the leaders of the IDF reservist protest movement against the government, told Israel Radio that he felt "betrayed" by Barak's decision, adding that the public would "settle scores" with the defense minister in the future. Sheera Claire Frenkel contributed to this report.