Labor head Barak wants party to remain in gov't

Labor leader to meet senior party members to garner support for staying in coalition post Winograd.

Barak grin 224 88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Barak grin 224 88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Labor Party chairman Ehud Barak will hold meetings in the next few days with senior members of the party to convince them to back Labor remaining in the government even after the publication of the final Winograd report on the Second Lebanon War. Army Radio reported Tuesday that Labor faction members supported this position. However, Labor Secretary-General Eitan Cabel said he would find it difficult to support staying in the coalition due to the failures of the war. "It is ludicrous that after the defense minister and chief of staff have resigned, he who carries the ultimate responsibility (Prime Minister Ehud Olmert) continues to lead the government," Cabel told Army Radio. On Monday, Barak's associates had hinted that he would remain in the coalition despite the Labor chairman's statement at a faction meeting that the government was to blame for the Second Lebanon War, a statement which raised expectations among Olmert's political opponents that Barak's days in the government could be numbered. Barak promised when he was running for the Labor leadership that he would remove the party from the coalition upon the publication of the final Winograd report. But since then he had hinted repeatedly that he would use the security situation and the Annapolis process as an excuse to remain in the government. Hours after the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee issued a scathing report criticizing the army's handling of the war, Barak defended the IDF and - without mentioning them by name - diverted the criticism toward Olmert and former defense minister Amir Peretz. "In the State of Israel, the overall responsibility for a war, its results and especially how it starts and ends, lies with the diplomatic echelon," Barak told the faction. "This is clear even though the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, for its own reasons, decided not to deal with [the diplomatic level] in its report." Barak added that the IDF wrote a painful report of its own that issued personal recommendations. He said Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi was working hard to implement the report's recommendations, so the IDF would be ready for the next potential war. Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu immediately welcomed Barak's statement that the political echelon was responsible and urged him to keep his promise to quit the government after the publication of the Winograd report, which is expected to take place the week of January 13. A source connected to Peretz went on the defensive. He said it was wrong for the defense minister to attack his party colleague. "He should instead be unifying the ranks of the party instead of slinging mud," the source said. "He has no right to criticize when he himself is to blame for the IDF's lack of readiness and for the way he withdrew from Lebanon [in 2000]." Another Barak political opponent in Labor slammed him for rushing to pass judgment about the war before Winograd's publication. "Only an idiot would dive into an empty pool and make such a statement before Winograd is released," the opponent said. Barak's associates scoffed at the criticism, which they said was intended to harm him for political reasons. They said Barak's political opponents "read too much" into what he said and that proponents of leaving the government shouldn't get their hopes up. "From a statement that was merely intended to support the army - as any defense minister would - you can't derive any hint about what he will decide in the future when Winograd is published," a Barak associate said. Channel 2 reported Monday that Barak recently sought the advice of Olmert's nemesis in Kadima, MK Avigdor Yitzhaki, who recommended that Labor leave the coalition and form a national-unity government with Likud and MKs who would leave Kadima. Barak's office said officially that he was waiting for the final Winograd report's publication before making a final decision about Labor's future.