Netanyahu Woos Labor

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JERUSALEM, Israel - Israel's Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu has not given up on forming a broad unity coalition government and is now focusing his efforts on the Labor party, headed by Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

Netanyahu is prepared to ask President Shimon Peres for two more weeks to form a coalition which includes Labor.

Barak is trying to persuade his Labor colleagues that joining the government is in the best interests of the nation.

His office issued a statement Wednesday, which read in part, "The country's well-being, in light of the challenges it faces in the political, security, economic and social spheres requires the Labor party to seriously weigh (the option of forming the government) and take a decision via the party's institutions."

The president's office set an official deadline of Sunday at midnight for Netanyahu to form a coalition. But he can ask the president for a two-week extension, which he will be forced to do because the Labor party will certainly not convene before the Sunday deadline.

Barak faces serious opposition among some of his fellow Labor members. Many in the party are put off by the nationalist sentiments of Netanyahu's designated foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman of the Yisrael Beiteinu party.

Education Minister Yuli Tamir said, "Barak's ongoing attempt to crawl into the Bibi Netanyahu -Lieberman party constitutes the Labor party's death certificate."

Labor legal advisor Yoram Avrahami, who also strongly opposes joining the coalition, warned that the party's by-laws prevent it from meeting until after the new government is formed.

But Barak dismissed the legal technicalities in an interview with Israeli Radio Thursday, saying, "No legal shenanigans or procedural shtick will permit Labor members from convening."

Netanyahu has spoken favorably of Barak's performance as defense minister. He would like to have Barak remain in the position in case Israel must coordinate military action against Iran's nuclear facilities while he is prime minister.

Sources: Ynet News, The Jerusalem Post

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