Labour Party votes for Netanyahu coalition deal


Israel's Labor Party has today voted in favour of going into a coalition government with Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party.

A majority of the 1,470 senior Labor Party members voted for the move, party spokesman Lior Rotbart said tonight.

Earlier today, Israeli prime minister-designate Mr Netanyahu won Labour chief Ehud Barak's agreement to a political partnership that could help Israel's next government avoid friction with Washington on Middle East peace.

Under the coalition deal with Mr Barak, an administration led by Mr Netanyahu's right-wing Likud would respect all of Israel's international agreements, a Labour Party negotiator said, a formula that includes accords envisaging Palestinian statehood.

Mr Netanyahu has shied away from declaring support for a two-state solution that is at the heart of US peace efforts. Indirect acceptance of that goal might keep him off a possible collision course with President Barack Obama.

The Labour-Likud pact was read out by the negotiator, Shalom Simchon, at the start of a ratification meeting of Labour's central committee where Mr Barak faced stiff opposition. The pact appeared to suggest a shift in focus in Israel's approach to peacemaking.

It made no specific mention of currently stalled talks with the Palestinians, saying only that a Netanyahu-led government would pursue "a regional agreement for peace and cooperation in the Middle East".

Mr Netanyahu has said his government would negotiate with the Palestinians but wanted the talks to concentrate on shoring up their economy rather than on territorial issues that have stymied past discussions - a concept they reject.

With centre-left Labour in his corner, Mr Netanyahu would have a ruling majority of 66 seats in the 120-member parliament, a margin he could still widen before an April 3rd deadline to form a government following Israel's February 10th election.

Labour cabinet minister Isaac Herzog said the pact represented a commitment to the Annapolis declaration and a US-backed peace "road map" charting a path to Palestinian statehood.

At a conference in Annapolis, Maryland in 2007, Israel agreed to negotiate a peace treaty to further "the goal of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security".

The Likud-Labour deal also included a commitment to "enforce the law" with regard to Jewish settlement outposts in the occupied West Bank built without government approval.

The current Israeli government largely ignored its promise to Washington to evacuate dozens of unauthorised outposts. It also continued to expand Jewish settlements in violation of the road map.

On Monday, Mr Netanyahu sealed a coalition deal with the Orthodox Jewish Shas party. He had already signed up the Yisrael Beitenu party led by ultra-nationalist Avigdor Lieberman.

But while enlisting those partners, Mr Netanyahu made clear he preferred a broad-based coalition.