Herzog urges Labor rebels to stay

Pines, Peretz, Cabel and Tamir considering split if Barak's changes to Labor constitution are approved.

paz pines 248 88 aj (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
paz pines 248 88 aj
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Welfare Minister Isaac Herzog sent out feelers of reconciliation Saturday night toward Labor Party's troublesome four - a group of MKs who met Friday to discuss the possibility of leaving the party and forming their own Knesset faction in protest of Labor Chairman and Defense Minister Ehud Barak's behavior as party leader. The four rebels - MKs Ophir Paz-Pines, Amir Peretz, Eitan Cabel and Yuli Tamir - have acted as opposition members since the 18th Knesset convened, but their road to a real party divide may be more complicated. Herzog called on them to find a way to stay in the party and advance their social-democratic agenda from within Labor. At a meeting he said that "especially at this time, when we stand before US President Barack Obama's vision, Labor must determinedly lead the government to adopt the principle of two countries, while maintaining Israel's vital interests. And to do so, we must be unified." "Although I don't agree with my friends on the matter of joining the Netanyahu government," added Herzog, "it is better to struggle together from within the house about the need for an alternative constitution that is balanced and democratic rather than to split apart." In that light, Herzog blasted newly-appointed Labor Director-General Weizman Shiri, who lashed out harshly against the Labor rebels in a Friday interview with Haaretz. "It is not the appropriate style for the party, and it is a pity that those things were said," said Herzog in response to the Barak confidante's statements. But if Shiri was all too ready to send the four rebels off to seek their political fortunes elsewhere, eager eyes were watching from the opposite side of the aisle. "Kadima should open its ranks to a merger," said MK Shlomo Mula on Saturday. "MKs who are faithful to their values can find a new home in Kadima. Kadima, like them, sees the immediate necessity of switching the current government, and sees the government as a disaster for Israel." The rebels met late Thursday night to discuss their options, although Labor sources said they will not make any significant move before the party convention, scheduled to be held on Thursday. Barak has said he plans to advance major changes to the party's constitution, and if the party rank-and-file approve, the rebels are likely on their way out. The four do not stand alone - they are reportedly supported by Labor heavyweights such as former MKs Danny Yatom, Ora Namir, Aharon Yadlin and Moshe Shahal, at whose offices the meeting was held. Shahal was reportedly tasked with preparing the arguments to help the four clear what is likely to be their greatest stumbling-block - the Knesset rule that a party split can only be recognized as the establishment of an alternative Knesset faction if no less than one-third of the party's members join the new faction. Labor currently holds 13 Knesset seats, which would necessitate a minimum of five rebel MKs in order to form a breakaway faction. The four have reportedly pushed and failed to bring outspoken social democrat MK Shelly Yecimovich - a one-time Peretz ally and a vocal opponent of Netanyahu's social policy - into the rebel fold. Having failed to do so, the four have now allegedly turned their sights on Labor Faction Chairman Daniel Ben-Simon, a freshman MK also known for his strong social democratic agenda. Shahal's assignment has been to prepare for the situation in which the four fail to enlist a fifth MK, and they must instead present an argument to the House Committee as to why the rebels should be recognized anyway as an independent faction.