Forward Thinking

Labor's Turn To Play Ball With Bibi?

By Nathan Jeffay

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The official deadline on Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition building falls this weekend, but with just one faction on board apart from his own — the six-seat Tzipi Livni Party — he is still short of the Knesset majority he needs.

Only 37 of the Knesset’s 120 seats are in the bag, meaning that another 24 are needed for a majority — and many more for the kind of majority that Netanyahu wants. He is desperate for a coalition large enough that no single party can bring it down.

Netanyahu’s Likud-Beytenu faction says that it is close to a deal with Jewish Home, and announced today that it will meet with Yesh Atid tomorrow, but relations are far from simple with both of these potential partners. Which leads some to ask, could it be the time for Labor to re-enter the game?

Labor said that it wouldn’t serve in a rightist-led government, but the slow progress in coalition building has led to this suggestion being raised from the most unexpected of quarters: the staunchly left-wing Yossi Beilin, former Labor and Meretz lawmaker.

Beilin, who initiated the secret negotiations with the Palestinians that led to the Oslo Accords, has written that things have changed since the January 22 election.

At first Beilin believed that Netanyahu would form a Haredi-and-rightist government. Instead, his only coalition partner so far is the dovish Tzipi Livni and a Labor entry may take the government to the left, Beilin wrote. It would be a way of “blocking the radical Right’s path to the government, that would be a wise move, both politically and diplomatically.”

Beilin admitted that he found it “hard” to express this view as he has normally opposed national unity government, but believes that “extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures.”

He stated: “Labor’s joining should not be considered a Catholic wedding. If the center-left members in the coalition realize they lack the influence they deserve, they should make an honorable exit to the opposition benches. The Prime Minister should be made well aware of the fact that Labor would not stay under all circumstances, and he has to keep in mind that it might bolt if he pursues policies that are not in line with the party’s ideology.”

For Netanyahu, bringing Labor on board would be a way out of what still seems, despite his party’s optimism, to be the deadlock between him and his more obvious coalition choices. Yesh Atid and Jewish Home have agreed to only enter as a pair, and only if the vast majority of Haredi men really start performing national service — the latter demand being incompatible with coalition agreements with Haredi parties. Labor would have its price on socio-economic issues and making efforts towards a peace process, but demands that would allow Netanyau’s faction to coexist in a coalition with Haredim. As such, Labor has a very strong bargaining position. All things considered, perhaps Labor’s final word that it won’t join the coalition shouldn’t be considered completely final yet.


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