Barak meets with Livni, Ya’alon amid speculation over center-left unity pact

Former PM is an outspoken critic of Netanyahu, with many believing he may be setting the stage for a return to politics

Former prime minister Ehud Barak in Tel Aviv, on December 22, 2017. (Flash90)
Former prime minister Ehud Barak in Tel Aviv, on December 22, 2017. (Flash90)

Former prime minister Ehud Barak reportedly met separately with opposition leader Tzipi Livni and former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon at his Tel Aviv home on Thursday, as speculation grows over the possibility of a political unification move for the country’s center-left camp.

Barak and Livni met in the morning, while Ya’alon arrived at Barak’s home in the afternoon, Channel 10 News reported.

“It is no secret that Livni meets and talks with various parties to examine the possibility of joining the Zionist Union with all the factions involved in the road toward a revolution,” a spokesperson for Livni told the news channel.

Ya’alon’s spokesperson said that “there are frequent meetings between various elements in the political system and outside it, who share the national concern to return Israel to the right track and bring about a different leadership.”

Opposition Leader Tzipi Livni speaks during the plenary session of the opening day of the winter session at the Knesset, on October 15, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Ya’alon was ousted by Netanyahu as defense minister in May 2016. He quit the ruling Likud party and the Israeli parliament shortly thereafter. He has since frequently criticized Netanyahu and has indicated he would return to politics to run against him.

On Saturday Ya’alon told the audience at a cultural event in the Eshkol Regional Council that “what is happening right now with the political situation is an existential threat to Israel.”

Earlier this month, Barak called the investigation into suspected corruption in billion dollar deals to purchase naval vessels one of the most serious graft cases in Israel’s history, and “borderline treason.”

Former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon speaks during a rally against government corruption at Zion Square in Jerusalem on December 23, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Speaking at a cultural event in Nes Tziona, just days after police recommended the indictment of a number of suspects in the probe, Barak also called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to resign in light of criminal allegations against a number of his close associates.

The investigation, which is known as Case 3000, is considered to be one of the greatest corruption schemes in the country’s history and centers on the purchase of submarines from a German shipbuilder.

Netanyahu himself is not suspected in Case 3000, but has been questioned by police over suspicions that state officials were paid bribes to influence a decision to purchase four patrol boats and three Dolphin-class submarines costing a total of 2 billion euros from German shipbuilder ThyssenKrupp, despite opposition to the deal by the Defense Ministry.

In July, in cryptic comments possibly signaling plans for a political comeback, Barak said there was a “real, historic possibility” to replace the “dark, nationalist government” of Netanyahu with one that promises hope and vision.

Barak, 76, who served as Netanyahu’s defense minister between 2009-2013, has over the past year become an outspoken critic of Netanyahu, with many believing he may be setting the stage for a return to politics.

In December, Barak in a New York Times op-ed said the current government was endangering the entire Zionist project as it inches closer to an annexation of the West Bank, “precluding any permanent separation from the Palestinians.”

He accused the Netanyahu-led government of showing a general disrespect for the rule of law, and claimed that it had “declared war” on the courts, the media, civil society, and the ethical code of the IDF.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then-defense minister Ehud Barak attend a press conference at the PM’s office in Jerusalem, November 21, 2012. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Barak was the IDF’s longest-serving chief of staff and the country’s most decorated soldier before becoming prime minister in 1999 after defeating Netanyahu in elections.

Following his defeat in 2001 to the late Ariel Sharon, Barak temporarily retired from politics, but returned to the Labor Party in 2005. From 2007 to 2013 he served as defense minister, the last four years under Netanyahu.

In 2011, he split from Labor, along with four other MKs, forming the short-lived Independence Party, in order to remain in Netanyahu’s coalition, despite the objection of most of Labor. The party was effectively disbanded upon Barak’s second retirement from politics in 2013.

In a Monday poll for Army Radio by pollsters Mina Tzemach and Meno Geva, Israelis were asked about their voting preferences, showing a slight shift rightward.

Likud held its place at the lead with 30 Knesset seats, up from 24 in a poll last week but equal to its current Knesset showing. In second-place came Yesh Atid at 18, a high in recent polls. In keeping with all polls in recent months, the center-left mainstay Zionist Union crashed from its current 24 to just 12. The Joint (Arab) List stood at 12.

Jewish Home, meanwhile, rose slightly from its current 8 seats to 9 and Yisrael Beytenu, the party of Avigdor Liberman whose resignation from his position of defense minister triggered a week-long political crisis, rose from its current 5 to 8.

The ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism recorded 7 seats with Shas scoring 6, a yet-to-be-launched party led by MK Orly Levy-Abekasis got 6, and the left-wing Meretz were at just 4, hovering just above the electoral threshold.

Last Wednesday, Liberman resigned from the government over criticism of a ceasefire deal with Hamas after the Gazan terror group had fired hundreds of rockets at Israeli towns for two days. His withdrawal shrank the coalition to a barely-sustainable margin of 61 seats in a 120-seat parliament.

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