Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Barak, Netanyahu agreement emerges

From THE JERUSALEM POST, Mar. 23, 2009, by Gil Hoffman and jpost staff:

Defense Minister and Labor Chairman Ehud Barak and Prime Minister-designate Binyamin Netanyahu met early Tuesday morning and came to an agreement on a number of issues, narrowing the gap of differences which would prevent Labor from joining a Likud-led coalition.

According to Army Radio, Netanyahu promised that his government would honor all previous international agreements - including those made with the Palestinian Authority. Further, the Likud leader promised that his coalition would work towards a peace agreement with the Palestinian people, and in the region as a whole, Army Radio reported.

Barak, the report went on, insisted that he be included in every forum where a diplomatic or security decision was being made. Netanyahu agreed to this demand, as well as the Labor leader's insistence that illegal outposts and settlement construction be restricted or dismantled according to the law.

The negotiating team Barak appointed met overnight in an effort to reach a draft agreement that could be presented at the convention. Members of the Labor team complained throughout the day that the Likud was unwilling to compromise on key issues, but both sides expressed confidence that the deal would be finalized in time for the parley.

The deal is expected to give Labor five portfolios, two deputy ministers and a Knesset committee chairmanship. The guidelines will not use the phrase "two states for two peoples" but will make clear that past agreements with the Palestinians will be respected and that there will be a diplomatic process with the Palestinians and Syria that Barak would help lead.

Labor's team also asked for the right to vote their conscience against Israel Beiteinu's proposals for a loyalty oath for citizens, and to be consulted on reforms to the justice system.

Shortly after the announcement, senior Labor MK Isaac Herzog said he decided that he would express his support that the party join the coalition during a party convention to be held later on Tuesday.

"The agreement allows us to have important and dramatic influence on the way the country will be run for the next few years, and Labor will have significant involvement in implementing what it believes in: on welfare, economic, and security issues in the face of the challenges that the country is facing," Herzog said.

"It was a very difficult decision for me, and I'm aware of all of its meaning, and yet out of a feeling of responsibility, I believe that the political reality does not leave me any choice but to adopt the agreement and support it," he continued.

"I intend to respect any decision made by the convention and will work to prevent any split in the party that has been my political home my entire life," Herzog said.

The 1,478 convention delegates of the divided Labor Party will come together Tuesday afternoon at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds to discuss the agreement reached earlier in the day, and to decide whether to join Netanyahu's national-unity government or try to bring it down from the opposition.

Supporters and opponents of joining the government both expressed confidence on Monday that they would emerge victorious in the secret ballot vote, the results of which will be available as early as 8 p.m.

Three speakers from each side will try to persuade the delegates, led by Barak on one side and Labor secretary-general Eitan Cabel on the other...
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