Internal tensions within the Israeli Labour party have spiked in recent days over the party’s support for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition. Senior Labour figures have been increasingly vocal in their opposition to the government and to Labour’s ongoing participation in the coalition. The impasse in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and Labour’s poor showing in opinion polls are cited as the main reasons for rising frustration within Labour ranks.
Government sources quoted in the Israeli media assess that Labour could quit the coalition as soon as March or April. In this case, Netanyahu will still be able to maintain a narrow 61-member government, possibly with the outside support of the right-wing National Union party. In this position, Netanyahu will likely opt for an early election in the beginning of 2012 to avoid the pressures of a narrow coalition.
The party leader Defence Minister Ehud Barak, who is the key proponent of Labour’s participation in Netanyahu’s coalition, has been the target of strong criticism from leading ministers and party officials including Welfare Minister Yitzhak Herzog and Minority Minister Avishai Braverman. In recent days pressure has also come from influential Trade Union chief Ofer Eini and veteran Infrastructure Minister Benjamin Ben Eliezer. The two supported Barak until recently, but now call for Labour’s exit from the coalition, leaving Barak as the only prominent figure in the party still advocating the current partnership. It is possible that even if Labour decides to leave the coalition, Barak will remain as Defence Minister and quit his position in the party.