Israel: Barak gets Labor's backing to join Netanyahu government

How will the partnership between Israel's newest political odd couple works out?

By , Correspondent

TEL AVIV – The Labor Party just handed a crucial vote of confidence to its leader, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, after the party's central committee overwhelmingly ratified a coalition agreement reached Tuesday morning (read story here) to join Israel's new right-wing dominated government.

The real winner, however, is not Mr. Barak (who gets to keep his job in the new government), but Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu. If Israelis and the rest of the world were wringing their hands over Mr. Netanyahu's coalition of right-wing and religious groups, the new prime minister can now point to Barak. With Barak's dovish Labor Party in the government, Netanyahu can boast that his coalition represents a broad swath of the Israeli public. He can talk about a unity government.

What makes the move even more strange is that it leaves outgoing Foreign Minister Tzippi Livni and her centrist Kadima party – which is closer to the Likud on the political spectrum – in the opposition. Will there be more pressure on Ms. Livni to join the government? Possibly, but it seems that Livni has staked out her new job as Israeli opposition leader.

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Though Barak had to overcome accusations that he was selling out the Labor Party's ideology, and warnings of a rupture in the party, some of his opponents have already said they won't move to split the party. That means that Netanyahu will enjoy a coalition of at least 69 Knesset members. It remains to be seen, however, how much influence the Labor Party will have on government policy. They're a minority in the coalition of right wing and religious parties.

It's worth noting that it was Barak who unseated Netanyahu as prime minister in the elections of 1999, so it’s a bit ironic that it's Barak who is now giving a big boost to Netanyahu. It will be interesting to see how the partnership between Israel's newest political odd couple works out.

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