Political earthquake in Israel as defense minister, Labor chief bolts party

Updated: 2011-01-18 15:06


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JERUSALEM -- Israel's Defense Minister and Labor Party Chairman Ehud Barak announced Monday morning that he decided to quit his lifelong political connection with the Labor Party, to create a new faction, the "Independence Party."

Shortly after his splitting from the party, three Labor ministers announced their resignation from the Netanyahu's government.

Political earthquake in Israel as defense minister, Labor chief bolts party
Israel's Defence Minister Ehud Barak attends a news conference at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem January 17, 2011. [Photo/Agencies]

"We are leaving a party and home that we love," Barak said during a press conference Monday morning.
"Today we're establishing a faction, a movement, and later a party which will be centrist, Zionist and democratic," he told reporters.

"The news came like a bolt of thunder on a clear day," several shocked Knesset parliament lawmakers told local media of Barak's decision.

Barak takes with him four other Labor parliament members, leaving the party with eight Knesset members. With the new Independence Party's five Knesset members, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition is still able to keep a majority in the parliament with 61 members.

Hours after Barak's announcement, three Labor ministers, Social Affairs Minister Isaac Herzog, Minority Affairs Minister Avishay Braverman and Trade, Industry and Labor Minister Binyamin Ben- Eliezer announced their resignation from Netanyahu's government.

Herzog told reporters that he and another Labor figure Shally Yechimovitch will form a new Labor party. "The Labor Party rid of a hump on its back. Barak's masquerade is over," he said, adding that "my friends and I are on a mission to stabilize the Labor Party."

While, Braverman said in another conference that he has asked Ben-Eliezer to lead the party until a new party chief is elected.

Ben-Eliezer, the third Labor minister that announced withdrawing from the government, harshly criticized Defense Minister Ehud Barak of his decision to split from the party earlier in the day. He insisted that the Labor party will still flourish, saying he "has no intentions of running for the chairmanship of the party."

The earthquake-change in the Labor comes in wake of an internal crisis in the party recently, as many Labor members have expressed their disappointment over the current government's policies on the peace process, and asked the party to step out of Natenyahu's ruling coalition.

Last Tuesday, Labor lawmaker Daniel Ben-Simon, a former journalist, struck a blow to the party by announcing his withdrawal with the stated aim of forming a one-man faction in the parliament, citing his disappointment with Labor and his failure to bring its members to leave the coalition.

Not mincing words, Ben-Simon said "For some months now I do not see eye to eye with the faction and the coalition. I've lost hope. Since it was not possible to withdraw as a group, I decided to expedite this move."
Ben-Eliezer, as a staunch advocate of the peace process with the Palestinians, announced in recent weeks that he personally would lead Labor out of the coalition in April unless the stymied process is resumed.


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