Labor vows to support Netanyahu in event of peace deal

Any accord would require approval by referendum; PM aims to present coalition to Peres next Wednesday

Benjamin Netanyahu and Shelly Yachimovich during a Knesset session in 2007 (photo credit: Michal Fattal/Flash90)
Benjamin Netanyahu and Shelly Yachimovich during a Knesset session in 2007 (photo credit: Michal Fattal/Flash90)

The government will have a lifeline in the form of the Labor Party’s support, at least in theory, if the Jewish Home party were ever to bolt Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition due to a decision to sign a peace treaty with the Palestinians, Labor leader Shelly Yachimovich said Thursday.

“We won’t be the ones to delay a historic development that will lead us toward peace with our neighbors — we won’t be the ones to prevent the signing of a peace accord,” said Yachimovich, who nevertheless expressed doubt in the prospect of progress in a peace process that  came to a complete standstill during Netanyahu’s previous tenure.

In case there was any doubt as to where Labor’s loyalties stood on other policy issues, she added: “Until then, we will be a combative opposition.”

Yachimovich has repeatedly spurned entreaties to join the emerging coalition, both from the Likud and from members of her own party, citing the insurmountable differences between the two parties’ economic and diplomatic worldviews.

A Jewish Home source told The Times of Israel that Likud-Beytenu had agreed that any peace agreement with the Palestinians would have to be affirmed by a popular referendum, and that Netanyahu’s landmark Bar-Ilan speech, which set out a conditional vision for a Palestinian state, would not be mentioned in the official government platform.

Netanyahu has repeatedly said that the basis for his policy via-à-vis the Palestinians would be his 2009 speech at Bar-Ilan University, during which he agreed in principle to a demilitarized Palestinian state, if the Palestinians recognized Israel as a Jewish state.

Netanyahu aims to present his coalition to Shimon Peres when the president returns next Wednesday from a sojourn in Europe, and to have it sworn in at the Knesset on Wednesday or Thursday, media reports said Thursday night.

Netanyahu met Thursday with Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett, who may become the finance minister in the new coalition, and was set to meet later with Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, who has sought the post of foreign minister but may be ready to take another portfolio instead, Israeli TV reports said. Both parties indicated that most obstacles to their joining the Likud-Beytenu-led coalition were now being cleared.

The new cabinet is expected to number 23 or 24 ministers — five or six fewer than Netanyahu wanted, and five or six more than Lapid had sought.

According to reports on Army Radio and Channel 2, Lapid withdrew his demand to assume the Foreign Ministry post, but it was not clear what alternative job was being offered.

Netanyahu has insisted on reserving the Foreign Ministry for Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman, who stepped down from the post late last year to fight fraud charges. Lapid was offered the Finance Ministry but refused it, reports said.

Yesh Atid and Jewish Home joined forces in coalition talks, each vowing to not enter without the other.

Coalition negotiations have taken longer than expected as Yesh Atid and Jewish Home joined ranks, pushing for a number of religion and state reforms, including a universal draft applying to young ultra-Orthodox males as well as new education standards in religious schools. The two parties’ united front on these issues prompted the ultra-Orthodox parties, traditionally allies of Netanyahu, to stay out of the government.

The emerging agreement on ultra-Orthodox service will see more than 400 young males excluded from service each year — the “quota” sought by Yesh Atid — but would still involve a dramatic rise in the number going into service, Israel’s Channel 10 said.

Netanyahu has until March 16 to form a government after Peres gave him a 14-day extension last Saturday. Should he fail to cobble together a coalition, Peres could ask another politician to form a government or call new elections.

Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua party, with six seats, is the only party to have signed with Likud-Beytenu and its 31 seats. Livni was reportedly promised the Justice Ministry portfolio.

Sixty-one seats are preferred for a governing coalition in the 120-seat Knesset. Bringing in Yesh Atid and Jewish Home, along with Kadima’s two seats, would give Netanyahu 70.

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