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Israel was jolted this week when Defense Minister Ehud Barak and four centrists from his Labor Party announced they were splitting from Labor and forming a new faction, called Independence. No one was surprised when the remaining eight, leftist Labor Members of Knesset reacted by saying they were departing the governing coalition.
Seemingly that leaves Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s coalition weakened: with all 13 Labor MKs it had 74 seats out of the 120-member Knesset; with 8 of them now gone, it’s down to 66. But, paradoxically, the coalition is now stronger, since the Labor leftists had been angling to take Labor out of it altogether. The remaining 66 is a rather strong, solid 66—and indeed it turns out Barak’s move was coordinated in hush-hush talks with Netanyahu.
Or as Netanyahu put it, again using the sort of “peace” rhetoric that was once more typical of Israel’s left: “The entire world knows, and so do the Palestinians, that this government will be here for the coming years, and it is with this government that it will have to conduct the peace process.”
In the press conference in which Barak and his four cronies announced their new party, that was one of the charges they leveled at the Labor leftists: that their constant threats to bolt the coalition over a “lack of diplomatic progress” left the Palestinian side with little incentive to negotiate, since they were just waiting for Israel’s government to collapse.
The newly minted Independence faction also charged—quite justly—Labor’s left wing with: serially holding Israel, and Israel alone, responsible for the perceived lack of “progress” with the Palestinians; and even, in more extreme cases, indulging post-Zionist tendencies—or a lack of commitment to maintaining Israel as a Jewish state.
The creation of Independence is, then, a welcome move. It shores up a government that is performing reasonably well in diplomatic, economic, and security spheres; may have spared Israel another pointless round of political turmoil; and projects an image of unity in which center-right and center-left, symbolized by Netanyahu and Barak respectively, work together in facing the country’s formidable challenges.
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