Bibi Netanyahu to lead coalition including Labor

Israel's Labor Party has decided to join the government being formed by Benjamin Netanyahu.  In one stroke, Labor Party recasts Bibi Netanyahu's government from far-right to centrist. Labor leader Ehud Barak, who has served as defense minister in Ehud Olmert's government, radically changed this script.  With a green light from Labor's Central Committee, Netanyahu now can form a governing coalition with a more centrist look. 

More important, it gives Netanyahu as prime minister far greater latitude in shaping his relations with the White House, while still pursuing firmer and more security-oriented strategies to confront Iran and its terrorist surrogates on Israel's borders -- Hezbollah and Hamas.

What a huge disappointment for mainstream media!

Ever since Israel's elections, they have wrung their hands and shed crocodile tears that a right-wing, Netanyahu-led government would doom the ''peace process" and clash with the Obama administration.  At most. they predicted, Netanyahu would govern with a slim majority of Knesset members and be at the mercy of nationalist, religious parties.

Without Labor, Netanyahu would have needed 12 Knesset votes of three religious-nationalist parties to fashion a 65-seat coalition in Israel's 120-member parliament. Without them, he would have fallen short 8 votes short.  With them, his diplomatic maneuverability would have been virtually nil.

Enters Labor, slimmed down to fourth largest party in the Knesset but with 13 critical seats.  This immediately assures Netanyahu of 66 seats -- without even counting any of the 3 far-right parties.  With them, his majority would rise to a formidable 78 seats.  All of a sudden, it's Netanyahu who can shape his government's directions, not a handful of rightist splinter parties with sufficient leverage to bring him down if he failed to toe their line.

Will Israel's new government become more dovish with Barak retaining the defense portfolio and having exacted a Netanyahu pledge to abide by Israel's past international agreements, including a willingness to engage the Palestinians in continued peace talks? 

Not very likely.  For one thing, Netanyahu already had been signaling that, to satisfy Washington, he would resume peace talks, which have been going nowhere anyway.  Also, Netanyahu's own record as prime minister in the 1990s shows him as far more pragmatic and susceptible to U.S. pressures than his media critics have been crediting him.  After all, it was then-Prime Minister Netanyahu who caved to Bill Clinton's pressure to relinquish control of most of Hebron, Judaism's second holiest city, to the Palestinian Authority.

For another thing, Ehud Barak has evolved as a more hawkish political figure since his premiership in 2000 when he joined President Clinton in offering Yasser Arafat a most generous two-state peace deal, including division of Jerusalem.  Under Sharon and Olmert, Barak, however, proved himself a much tougher politician on security matters, which earned him a persistent barrage of criticism from Labor's left wing.

Some in the media may portray Netanyahu and Barak as an odd hawk-and-dove couple.  But that would be a total misreading of both men.  They may differ on domestic matters, but when it comes to Israel's basic security interests, they are quasi-twins.
Israel's Labor Party has decided to join the government being formed by Benjamin Netanyahu.  In one stroke, Labor Party recasts Bibi Netanyahu's government from far-right to centrist. Labor leader Ehud Barak, who has served as defense minister in Ehud Olmert's government, radically changed this script.  With a green light from Labor's Central Committee, Netanyahu now can form a governing coalition with a more centrist look. 

More important, it gives Netanyahu as prime minister far greater latitude in shaping his relations with the White House, while still pursuing firmer and more security-oriented strategies to confront Iran and its terrorist surrogates on Israel's borders -- Hezbollah and Hamas.

What a huge disappointment for mainstream media!

Ever since Israel's elections, they have wrung their hands and shed crocodile tears that a right-wing, Netanyahu-led government would doom the ''peace process" and clash with the Obama administration.  At most. they predicted, Netanyahu would govern with a slim majority of Knesset members and be at the mercy of nationalist, religious parties.

Without Labor, Netanyahu would have needed 12 Knesset votes of three religious-nationalist parties to fashion a 65-seat coalition in Israel's 120-member parliament. Without them, he would have fallen short 8 votes short.  With them, his diplomatic maneuverability would have been virtually nil.

Enters Labor, slimmed down to fourth largest party in the Knesset but with 13 critical seats.  This immediately assures Netanyahu of 66 seats -- without even counting any of the 3 far-right parties.  With them, his majority would rise to a formidable 78 seats.  All of a sudden, it's Netanyahu who can shape his government's directions, not a handful of rightist splinter parties with sufficient leverage to bring him down if he failed to toe their line.

Will Israel's new government become more dovish with Barak retaining the defense portfolio and having exacted a Netanyahu pledge to abide by Israel's past international agreements, including a willingness to engage the Palestinians in continued peace talks? 

Not very likely.  For one thing, Netanyahu already had been signaling that, to satisfy Washington, he would resume peace talks, which have been going nowhere anyway.  Also, Netanyahu's own record as prime minister in the 1990s shows him as far more pragmatic and susceptible to U.S. pressures than his media critics have been crediting him.  After all, it was then-Prime Minister Netanyahu who caved to Bill Clinton's pressure to relinquish control of most of Hebron, Judaism's second holiest city, to the Palestinian Authority.

For another thing, Ehud Barak has evolved as a more hawkish political figure since his premiership in 2000 when he joined President Clinton in offering Yasser Arafat a most generous two-state peace deal, including division of Jerusalem.  Under Sharon and Olmert, Barak, however, proved himself a much tougher politician on security matters, which earned him a persistent barrage of criticism from Labor's left wing.

Some in the media may portray Netanyahu and Barak as an odd hawk-and-dove couple.  But that would be a total misreading of both men.  They may differ on domestic matters, but when it comes to Israel's basic security interests, they are quasi-twins.