Barak, Likud leader may meet on Thursday for third round of talks; Labor central c'tee to meet next week.
By GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN
Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu has given Labor leader Ehud Barak until next week to persuade his party's MKs to join the next coalition before he gives up on them and finalizes a narrow government of right-wing parties, Netanyahu's associates said Tuesday.
Netanyahu and Barak will meet as early as Thursday, for a third time since coalition talks began, to discuss the possibility of Labor joining the coalition and contingency plans if Barak cannot get his party to join.
The Labor central committee is expected to meet next week to decide the party's fate. Barak's rivals in Labor have warned him that if he asks the committee to approve joining the next government, the committee will initiate a primary to topple him instead.
Barak boasted in Monday's Labor faction meeting that top business leaders, former military men and judges were pushing him to join the government. While no judges have come forward, The Jerusalem Post has learned that the former military men include former IDF deputy chief of General Staff Uzi Dayan and former brigadier-general Oded Tyrah.
Tyrah, who headed the Manufacturers Association, fits the bill as both a business leader and former military man. Dayan, who ran unsuccessfully for the Knesset with Likud and has been close to Barak for decades, said he had spoken to Netanyahu and Barak at his own initiative, in an effort to bring about a national unity government.
"In the current situation, leaders must act out of what is good for the country and not what is good for their party," Dayan said. "I have done what I can to ensure that Labor will join Netanyahu's government, because this must be a time for national unity."
There has been speculation that if Barak were unable to convince his party to join the next coalition, he would quit Labor and the Knesset, and remain defense minister as an appointment by the Likud. If he did so, he would follow in the footsteps of Uzi Dayan's uncle Moshe Dayan, who left Labor to become Menachem Begin's foreign minister in 1977 and helped bring about Israel's peace treaty with Egypt.
"I hope this gets solved on the party level and doesn't have to be solved on the personal level," Uzi Dayan said. "But there is no doubt that Moshe Dayan helped the country by helping bring peace with Egypt, and it ended up helping him, too."
However, Barak's associates said he "would not follow Dayan's precedent," because he had committed himself to accepting the verdict of the Labor central committee. They added that Barak still hoped to return to the Prime Minister's Office one day and that he believed Labor was the party with which he should do it.
Barak's harshest critic in Labor, MK Shelly Yacimovich, met with him for half an hour on Monday and left convinced that he would do everything possible to bring Labor into the government against the will of its voters. She said he did not care about the party and was only using it as a tool to reach his goal of being defense minister.
"Joining a Netanyahu-Lieberman government would be political and moral suicide for Labor," Yacimovich said. "Barak has no such mandate. If he wants to negotiate with Bibi, it has to be in his name only and not in Labor's."
A key bellwether of Barak's support in the Labor central committee for joining the government, the party's kibbutz sector, will convene on Thursday.
Labor's young guard announced on Tuesday that it would give Barak 48 hours to break off talks with Netanyahu, or else it would initiate efforts to topple him.
Meanwhile, talks have continued behind the scenes between the members of the Likud's negotiating team and representatives of other potential coalition partners. Likud MK Ze'ev Elkin, who is in charge of mediating between Israel Beiteinu and the haredi parties, revealed on Tuesday night that he had met with top haredi sages in an effort to reach compromises on matters of religion and state.
Israel Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman said in closed conversations that he believed the new coalition would be formed by the end of next week and that "if it could last for five months, it will last five years."
According to Netanyahu's spokesman, the Likud leader did not met with anyone on Tuesday to advance the formation of the coalition, because his day revolved around his meeting with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
"I wish that he got along with [Kadima leader] Tzipi [Livni] as well as he did with Hillary," the spokesman said.
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