- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 5, 2011

JERUSALEM | There is now a consensus within Israel’s center-left Labor Party to leave Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition in the coming months if there is no movement in the peace process, senior party members told The Washington Times.

“We would like to see the peace process moving on as a major element, and this is our demand, and we hope Netanyahu and the Palestinians will move frward,” said Isaac Herzog, one of five Labor ministers and the first to declare his candidacy to succeed Defense Minister Ehud Barak as Labor leader. “I still think it’s feasible, and we have to give it a chance, but we’re talking about a very small window of opportunity.”

However, he said, “The general picture is that Labor’s on its way out of the coalition.”

Mr. Herzog and other Labor ministers have joined the call of Avishay Braverman, another minister eyeing the Labor leadership post, to give Mr. Netanyahu an ultimatum on peace.

**FILE** Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Associated Press)
**FILE** Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Associated Press) more >

The Palestinians bolted from direct talks with Israel on Sept. 26, weeks after they began, when Mr. Netanyahu’s government declined to extend the 10-month moratorium it had imposed on settlements in the West Bank.

“We entered the government to advance the peace process,” Mr. Braverman said. “I told Mr. Barak in August: ‘Put an ultimatum to Netanyahu about moving forward on direct negotiations because you’re making a mistake. You become an intermediary between Netanyahu, [his right-wing coalition partners] and America. You will fail.’

“And indeed he failed. Six months passed by, and what is the outcome? We have a right-wing government, the Labor Party is paying so much in the polls that it’s really falling apart, and I say enough is enough,” Mr. Braverman said.

“The ultimatum is ‘Direct negotiations, we are in; no direct negotiations, we are out.’ Now, there are two outcomes: If Netanyahu will feel the pressure — the way he feels it from [his right-wing coalition partners] — he has an option,” he said.

“If he doesn’t go with us, then we pull out. We go to opposition. And he will remain with an extreme right-wing government. I believe that by moving like that, it doesn’t matter how long he serves, he will be one of the worst prime ministers of Israel and eventually lose the elections.”

Labor finished fourth in Israel’s February 2009 elections with 13 Knesset seats, its worst showing ever.

Mr. Netanyahu was unable to come to terms on a unity government with Tzipi Livni, head of the centrist Kadima party, which finished in a virtual tie with his center-right Likud Party. He then turned to Mr. Barak, who brought his party into the otherwise right-wing coalition against the wishes of most of its elected legislators.

One dissident Labor legislator, former party Secretary-General Etan Cabel, said that while most Israelis supported a vigorous peace process, Mr. Netanyahu had “not crossed the Rubicon in his head.”

“If he’s serious, he must call Tzipi Livni and Kadima to change his coalition,” Mr. Cabel said. “So Ehud Barak can say to the Americans, to the State Department, ‘Benjamin Netanyahu will change’ — it’s only words. Nobody can change Netanyahu.”

Media reports have indicated that Mr. Barak has sparked animus at the highest levels of the U.S. government for exaggerating his ability to nudge Mr. Netanyahu to make bold peace moves.

Story Continues →