Crises pushing Labor to 'boiling point'

Resolving land reform, passing controversial new constitutions may prevent split in Barak's party.

Barak 248.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Barak 248.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Talks between Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Labor chairman Ehud Barak over Netanyahu's controversial land reform plan will continue until the last-minute on Monday or Tuesday, in what is expected to be a difficult political week for both men. Netanyahu and Barak met on Friday in an unsuccessful effort to resolve the crisis over the plan, which Netanyahu sees as one of the central issues of his premiership and Barak as the key to preventing a split in his fragile party. In an embarrassment for the prime minister, he had to stop a roll-call vote on the reform bill in the Knesset two weeks ago. The bill will only come up for a revote after Kadima ends its filibuster on the so-called Mofaz Bill, which could stretch for up to 24 more hours after the Knesset begins a special summer session at 11 a.m. on Monday. A source close to Barak denied that there was a prospective coalition crisis over the land reform, even though Labor's fractured faction has united in support of changes to the bill that would allow only 800,000 dunams (80,000 hectares) of Israel Lands Administration land to be sold, which make up 3.65 percent of the total land available, whereas the original proposal had no limit whatsoever. The faction pushed for reducing the amount to much less and leasing the land long-term instead of selling it permanently. "Don't overdramatize things," a source close to Barak said. "There is no crisis, there are no threats, and a solution will be found by the deadline." If Netanyahu would agree to Labor's demands to change the bill before its final readings, he could also receive the support of Habayit Hayehudi's three MKs and of fellow Likud member Vice Premier Moshe Ya'alon, none of whom supported the bill two weeks ago, and whose demands are similar to Labor's. But coalition chairman Ze'ev Elkin said that each party had its own problems and negotiations would be required until the last minute to resolve them. The vote on the land reform comes at a particularly sensitive time for Barak, because his party's house committee will be meeting on Sunday to finalize changes in his controversial new party constitution ahead of Wednesday's fateful Labor convention. The convention has already been delayed three times, because Barak has not succeeded in getting a majority for the changes he wants to make, and Industry, Trade, and Labor Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer is calling for another delay. Unlike other divides in Labor where Barak enjoys a clear majority over his political opponents, even his close ally Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog opposes the constitution. "The party has reached a boiling point," Herzog said. "It's going to be a difficult week. There is significant opposition in the party to the land reforms, and whether a compromise will be reached with Netanyahu on that issue will impact the level of tension over the constitution." Barak's associates said progress has been made in easing opposition to the changes to the constitution, which would give the Labor chairman unlimited new powers. But Herzog said he still had a few dozen reservations, including setting a four-year term for party chairman and holding an election for party chairman in two years, instead of just ahead of the next general election as Barak wants. Histadrut Labor Federation chief Ofer Eini is also demanding changes, and Barak's political opponents believe Barak's constitution cannot be fixed. Former Labor chairman MK Amir Peretz slammed Barak in an interview on Channel 1 on Friday night. He called Barak "more right-wing than Kadima" and suggested the formation of a new center-left party.