Winograd to delay Labor's departure from coalition
Ayalon, Peretz bash Barak's handling of labor dispute between party's management and employees.
By GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN, SHEERA CLAIRE FRENKEL
The Supreme Court's decision to require a lengthy legal procedure ahead of the release of the final Winograd Report on the Second Lebanon War will likely delay Labor's departure from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's coalition, officials from the party said Wednesday.
Labor chairman Ehud Barak promised during his run for party leader that he would remove Labor from the coalition when the report came out, but when he made the commitment, the document was expected to be released in October. Now legal analysts predict that it might not be released until as late as March 2008, after all the people who could potentially be harmed by the report are allowed to defend themselves before the committee.
Sources close to Barak said his promise would not be affected by the court's decision, even if it meant remaining in the government longer than he had initially planned. The delay could even help his prime ministerial aspirations, because it will give him more time in the Defense Ministry to prove his professional credentials and to repair his image in the general public.
"The country is in the midst of a difficult security situation that requires a man like Ehud Barak in the Defense Ministry," a source close to Barak said. "Whenever the next general election happens, the public will realize that despite all the criticism he has faced, he is the most serious candidate."
Labor MK Ophir Paz-Pines, who endorsed Barak's candidacy for party leader in return for his promise to break up the coalition, said he still believed that Barak wanted to leave the government. Paz-Pines said there were diplomatic and security issues that should make Labor reconsider its future in the government before Winograd's release.
"Every day in the coalition is bad for Labor," Paz-Pines said. "We need to leave the government before Winograd comes out."
He criticized the Winograd Committee for taking so long to send letters of warning to the people who will be criticized in the report.
Olmert was trying to artificially extend his tenure and the Winograd Committee was letting him get away with it, Paz-Pines said.
Also on Wednesday, Barak faced criticism from his challengers in June's Labor leadership vote. In a pre-Rosh Hashana toast in Kfar Saba, MK Ami Ayalon slammed Barak's handling of the labor dispute between the party's management and employees.
While not mentioning Barak by name, Ayalon said that breaking contracts with the Kibbutz movement and firing long-term party employees was not "the proper way to handle the debt."
Ayalon, who may soon join the cabinet as a minister-without-portfolio with a special responsibility for periphery communities, spoke at great length about the problems facing the people of Sderot.
"Our first priority must be to the people and especially the children of Sderot," Ayalon said. "We must ensure their safety. Especially since the defense portfolio is in our lap. Whatever the army asks to secure our safety we must consider."
Ayalon said the party had to stand by Barak, but that Labor was "far from succeeding in explaining its path to the public. We're in a deep crises and I hope we can recover from it."
Former Labor chairman Amir Peretz said Barak was being given an extended grace period by a public that was much more impatient when Peretz himself was defense minister.
"People thought a magician could come in with his wand and do magic to improve the security situation and poof, everything would be fixed," Peretz told Army Radio. "Now everyone understands due to the continuing security situation that the problems cannot be solved with magic tricks."
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