Israeli Defense Minister's new faction receives four portfolios in coalition
Negotiations between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak held Monday night, ended with an agreement that Barak's new faction would receive four portfolios in the Likud-led coalition, Xinhua reported.
Barak stunned Israel's political establishment early Monday morning when he announced his resignation from the post as chairman of the Labor Party in favor of establishing a new party, to be called "Independence" (Atzmaut), while taking with him four of Labor's lawmakers in the Knesset.
He said the decision to sever ties with his lifelong political party came about after months of strife within Labor over the stalled peace talks with the Palestinians, as the party's members increasingly demanded to split from Netanyahu's government.
The announcement triggered a chain reaction. Within hours, all of Labor's remaining ministers announced their resignation from the coalition.
According to the deal with Netanyahu, Barak will remain defense minister. Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon will replace the resigning Binyamin Ben-Eliezer as the new trade, industry and labor minister. Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai will receive the Minority Affairs portfolio instead of Avishai Braverman.
Legislator Orit Noked, Ben-Eliezer's former deputy, will be appointed to head the Agriculture Ministry while Einat Wilf will chair the new faction and receive other top positions in Knesset committees.
Netanyahu will temporarily assume responsibility over the Welfare and Social Services Ministry from Isaac Herzog, who said Barak's departure from Labor would enable the party to embark on a new path of rehabilitation and reinstate its influence in national politics.
Netanyahu on Monday praised Barak's defection from Labor, publicly announcing that the new faction would only strengthen his coalition.
"The whole world knows, and the Palestinians know, that this government will be around for the next few years and that it is with this government that they should negotiate for peace," Netanyahu said, adding that he is bent on advancing the peace process "on the basis of promoting our interests."
In his televised press conference, Barak said that he and his colleagues are "leaving a party and a home that we love and respect." The new party, he said, would be "centrist, Zionist and democratic."
While the solid majority enjoyed by Netanyahu's coalition has been reduced, its remaining 66 lawmakers are enough to keep it intact.