Idled peace talks threaten Israeli coalition

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Labor’s departure from the coalition would not bring down the government. Mr. Netanyahu’s coalition still would control a narrow majority of 61 lawmakers in the 120-member Knesset.

But any of Mr. Netanyahu’s four coalition partners, all of whom have threatened to quit at one point or another, would have the ability to force elections earlier than those scheduled for October 2013.

Daniel Hershcovitz, chairman of the pro-settlement HaBayit Hayehudi (Jewish Home) party — with three seats, the smallest member of the coalition — acknowledged that Labor’s departure would enhance his leverage over Mr. Netanyahu on the issues that are important to him. “There’s no doubt about it,” he said.

But he brushed aside suggestions that he would leave merely if polls showed that his party could gain more seats in an election.

“Right now,” he said, “I don’t foresee any earth-shaking changes.”

Israeli Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom said he was hopeful that the government would serve out its term, but history dictated otherwise.

“Unfortunately, we see the same phenomenon over and over,” he said. “The first year, the government looks very, very stable, the second half of the second year, it starts to get undermined, and unfortunately, the third year, it collapses. We had elections in 2009, in 2006, in 2003, in 2001, in ‘99, in ‘96.”

“We are trying very hard, of course, to resume negotiations with the Palestinians,” Mr. Shalom added. “If we will succeed, we can keep Labor in. But as the Americans are saying, it takes two to tango.”

The Labor Party cannot move to leave the coalition until its convention, the date of which Mr. Barak and other party members are debating.

Daniel Ben-Simon, another rebel Labor lawmaker, said he thinks there is a consensus among the ranks now and that “April is the latest” the party will give the Netanyahu government to make progress on the peace process.

He said he and some other Labor members think an ultimatum is a waste of time.

“I think we should leave now,” he said, “because our mandate has expired. We came in order to enhance the peace process, in order to take a right-wing coalition and inject some moderation. We failed.”

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

About the Author

Ben Birnbaum

Ben Birnbaum is a reporter covering foreign affairs for The Washington Times. Prior to joining The Times, Birnbaum worked as a reporter-researcher at the New Republic. A Boston-area native, he graduated magna cum laude from Cornell University with a degree in government and psychology. He won multiple collegiate journalism awards for his articles and columns in the Cornell Daily Sun.

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