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Israel’s Labor Party Votes to Join Government Coalition

Jewish Telegraphic Agency

March 24, 2009 | 5:33 pm

JERUSALEM (JTA)—The Labor Party voted to join the Likud-led coalition government, virtually guaranteeing that Benjamin Netanyahu will be Israel’s next prime minister.

Labor chief Ehud Barak’s bid to join Netanyahu’s coalition came down to a contentious vote Tuesday night by the party’s central committee, with 680 in favor of joining and 570 against.

With Labor behind him, Netanyahu now has the 60-plus Knesset majority necessary to form a government and become prime minister. His other coalition partners include the Yisrael Beiteinu and Shas parties.

Barak argued that Labor joining the Likud-led coalition was best for the country and would not provide cover for a right-wing agenda.

“I am not afraid of Benjamin Netanyahu. We won’t be anyone’s fig leaf or anyone’s third wheel,” Barak told the central committee. “We will act as an opposing force that will ensure there will not be a narrow right-wing government, but a real government that looks after the State of Israel.”

Audience members who disagreed booed Barak.

“We would be entering this government as a third wheel, as a wagging tail, not more than that,”  Knesset member Shelly Yachimovich said before the vote. “There is no shame in sitting in the opposition. On the contrary, it’s an honor.”

Earlier in the day, Barak and Netanyahu came together on a draft agreement stipulating that in exchange for Labor’s joining the coalition, the Israeli government would commit toward working for achieve regional peace, affirm its commitment to all agreements signed by previous Israeli governments, allow Barak to continue on as defense minister and be a full partner in the diplomatic process, and enforce the law on illegal outposts, according to media reports.

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