Labor Central C'tee divided on joining Netanyahu gov't

Up to third of members may be undecided.

Up to 1,470 members of the Labor Party's Central Committee will determine on Tuesday afternoon whether the party joins Prime Minister-designate Binyamin Netanyahu's government, in a secret ballot to be taken at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds. Party sources said on Monday that an estimated one-third of its members supported chairman Ehud Barak's proposal to join the coalition, and another third opposed it. The remaining third had yet to decide. Among the sectors that have made up their minds are the party's Young Guard, which plans to vote against the proposal, and the Haifa district, of which 85 percent said they would support the proposal, according to district secretary-general Yisrael Savion. "For over a decade, the public has been trying to tell us something - that it doesn't want us the way we have become," said Erez Abu, a member of the Young Guard leadership, who served as Barak's political adviser and quit his position almost a year ago. "We aren't getting the message, and claim that most of our voters want us to join the government. If we do, I guess next time we will have only five Knesset seats," Abu went on. "It is also in the state's interest to have a strong opposition, so the argument that joining the government is the responsible thing to do does not convince me," he added. Savion believes that if the city he represents is any indication of how the rest of the country's Labor committee members feel, Barak's proposal will be approved on Tuesday. "Despite the fact that I wanted to be in the opposition and that I hoped Kadima would show responsibility, join the government and be a balancing factor, I was convinced that our place was in the coalition, because the country is more important to us than anything else," Savion said. Two of the undecided votes belong to veteran party members Yossi Arbel, secretary-general of the Givatayim branch, and Mina Greenberg. Both of them spoke to Army Radio on Monday morning. "I am trying to be realistic, and even though I am a son of Holocaust survivors and I know that we have only one country, I don't want to be a fig leaf for an extreme right-wing government," Arbel said. "I told both Barak and Fuad [National Infrastructures Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer] that if they reached agreements with Netanyahu that are in line with Labor's political agenda, I would support joining the government." Greenberg said she had been against joining the government, but was now "full of hesitation." "I don't think Labor should sit in Netanyahu's government. He failed on the economic issue and almost brought a disaster upon us. He hurt the weak sectors in society, and I don't think he is worthy of leading this country," she said. "On the other hand, I am a daughter of Holocaust survivors, and I am proud of my country and I want it to thrive. I think that an extreme right-wing government will only lead Israel to a disastrous situation in the international arena, and I believe that influencing [matters] from the inside would be right and essential," she added. Both of them said they would decide only on Tuesday after hearing all the arguments, and both said they would like to see more than promises and "cheap" words. A source in Labor said that the secret ballot made it hard to predict the results, but that it was best to hold the vote in a way that would allow everyone to vote their conscience. "We will have to wait and see how the committee votes," the source said.