Labor joins Netanyahu’s government

Press review – week from March 23 to 27, 2009

Following the recent elections in Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu was appointed by President Peres to form a coalition government. After the refusal of Tzipi Livni, leader of Kadima party that had won -in terms of votes- the elections, the Likud leader had proposed that Ehud Barak,the Labor Party leader and Minister of Defense to integrate the coalition. This week, Barak managed to convince his party of the opportunity embodied by his return to power in the government of B. Netanyahu, dominated by the right and the extreme right.

The Labor Party split

Six of the thirteen members of the Labor Party in the Knesset supported Ehud Barak and his entry into B. Netanyahu’s government. This support could be obtained only after some concessions made by B. Netanyahu. Indeed, La Libre Belgique reported that the coalition agreement between Labor and Likud is based on the promise of Likud that efforts for a comprehensive peace in the Middle East will continue. However, this agreement does not specify the creation of a Palestinian State, nor the « Roadmap » nor an international peace plan, nor the re-launch of negotiations decided at the Annapolis conference in 2007.

Barak’s decision to participate to the new government, which could have been seen as surprising, seems to be a dangerous gamble for the Labor politician but also for the Labor Party itself. Indeed, while six members of the party have supported Barak, his seven opponents, who believe that participation in the government discredits the Labor Party in its voters’ eyes, declared that they will not feel committed in Barak’s agreement, said Le Figaro.

For La Libre Belgique, Barak’s « victory » within his own party is the « old guard »’s, which wants to remain in charge of power while the « young guard » wanted to join the opposition, in Kadima’s shadow- and sees this alignment as a betrayal. This division of the party will also be perilous for Netanyahu’s government. La Libre Belgique points out that this entry of Labor will only give a narrow majority to the Likud leader, with the only support of Barak camp within the party, that is to say of six out of thirteen members. In addition, if the seven opponents do not threaten to split from Labor yet, they promised to « put the squeeze on the government. »

Tzipi Livni, Kadima leader, said in the Jerusalem Post that she does not regret having placed her party in the opposition, convinced that no main figure will leave it. She accused members of the future government to do nothing to stem the « lack of public faith in politics. » She promised to focus become on the reform of the Israeli government system and on social issues, matters that have been ignored during the recent years. However, she confirmed that her party will support the Government when necessary.

A return of E. Barak often welcomed by the press

However, this rally was welcomed by part of the Israeli and international press because asLa Libre Belgique highlighted, Mr. Netanyahu sought to reassure the international community and particularly the United States, on the intentions of his cabinet, very anchored on the right. President Obama had indeed felt that the return of the right would not make peace with the Palestinians easier.

For the Jerusalem Post, the presence of the Labor Party in this new government at least gives a voice to workers in a period of economic dislocation. Regarding the international scene, its presence would greatly improve the way Israel is perceived in the United States and Europe, moderating the effect of the possible appointment of Avigdor Lieberman as Minister of Foreign Affairs.

On the contrary, for its part, La Libre Belgique reported that many analysts believe that Barak / Netanyahu alliance will serve as a « fig leaf » to B. Netanyahu to strengthen its nationalist policy and will not prevent the future government to plunge Israel into international isolation. Indeed, as the newspaper recalls, the anti-Arab party of Avigdor Lieberman remains a partner in the coalition and he will personally conduct foreign affairs.

The duet Netanyahu / Barak in power

The Israeli daily Haaretz focused on the duet Netanyahu / Barak in power, believing that if the two men are able to analyze their past mistakes, they could surprise the political class. Their first task ahead would be Iran. The daily envisaged that the future prime minister and the future Minister of Defense may soon have to convince the international community to impose an economic and political siege on Tehran. Haaretz believes that only these two men are able to cope with such a situation.
The second mission of the new government would be economy with a massive public debt. The presence of Ehud Barak would lead to prudent economic choices to deal with the crisis.

The disappointment of Likud voters

The Yediot Aharonot considers that Likud voters have been betrayed, calling B. Netanyahu a « manipulator who ignores his constituents and only thinks of himself. » The newspaper questioned what might think voters from other parties of the right who voted for the Likud in order to defeat Kadima, now that the Labor is in the government. Indeed, unlike the Labor Party voters, the « National Union » – as Netanyahu calls his coalition-expresses the position of right-wing voters who opposed Ariel Sharon’s disengagement and had supported Netanyahu at the time. Bringing the Labor Party in the coalition is to the Yediot Aharonot « indecent » vis-à-vis Likud’s voters.