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Opinion: Labour Decision to Join Likud Harms Hopes for Peace

Israeli Labour Party head Ehud Barack's decision to take part in a government led by hardliner Benjamin Netanyahu is a disservice to the Labour Party and, more importantly, to hopes for peace, writes DW's Peter Philipp.

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The Israeli social democrats are helping the leader of the conservative Likud Party take power. Labour Party leader Ehud Barak got a slim majority of 58 percent of his party to accept the deal, despite concerns in the party basis. He put into effect what he discussed in a long night of talks with Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu: the Labour Party will take part in the coalition and save it from being judged by the world as a "far-right government."

Peter Philipp

Peter Philipp

The Labour Party -- for decades the party of pioneers, state founders and leaders of the first government, finished only fourth in the most recent election, claiming 13 of the Knesset's 120 seats.

It is to be expected that joining Netanyahu's coalition will not slow down Labour's decline, but rather will hasten it. After all, what party members have perceived is likely to be very clear to the public: Barak and the center-left party are more interested in saving themselves and their careers than in morals.

Barak, of course, is not prepared to make such an admission. It would mean he would have to contradict himself, since on election day he spoke about joining the opposition. Now he emphasizes that he's not afraid of Netanyahu and that he will serve as a counterbalance to extreme right positions. As a partner in the coalition he could achieve more than as a 13-member party in the opposition.

That may well be, but what can Barak achieve in such a government? There's the prime minister who, during campaigning, broke off from restarting the peace process. The likely foreign minster, Avigdor Lieberman, has threatened to bomb Egypt's Aswan Dam; he sees Israeli-Arabs as potential enemies in their own country; and he would prefer attacking Iran sooner rather than later. And there are Orthodox coalition partners, primarily concerned with improving the economic and social position of religion in Israel.

In short, problems and conflicts are preprogrammed both domestically and internationally.

The European Union has already begun grumbling that it would not be able to work with a far-right government in Jerusalem the same way it did with other governments. Washington is alarmed, and the position of hardliners in the Arab world who say Israel was never interested in peace is being strengthened.

In light of this situation, talking about a "counterbalance in the coalition" is a sham. Barak will have to make one compromise after another to make sure other coalition partners don't leave the government to force early elections. People now, even in Israel, are beginning to ask if Barak isn't already camped on the right and won't actually have to make any concessions at all. He will serves as a fig leaf for Netanyahu and not as a corrective in the government.

His decision is a disservice to his own party, and, more importantly, to hopes for peace.

Peter Philipp is DW's chief correspondent and an expert on the Middle East.

Author: Peter Philipp/jen

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