Ehud Barak says he could act as a counterweight to far-right and religious coalition members.
Tel Aviv, Israel
Hoping to buy some geopolitical maneuvering room, Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu initialed a deal on Tuesday with Defense Minister Ehud Barak to include his dovish Labor Party in the new Israeli government.
Mr. Netanyahu wants Mr. Barak to keep his job, which would allow him to act as a counterweight to far-right and religious coalition members. Those partners oppose any hint of negotiations to relinquish land to Israel's neighbors, thus risking further diplomatic isolation for the Jewish state.
Moreover, Barak's presence as defense minister will allay concern about the influence of ultranationalist Avigdor Lieberman – tapped as foreign minister – on policymaking regarding Iran's growing power.
"Internationally, it improves matters. There is a perception was that it was an extreme right-wing coalition," says Avraham Diskin, a political science professor at Hebrew University. "If there is a need to do something about the nuclear capability of Iran, it's much easier now. Barak has proven himself to be cautious."
The move to join Netanyahu highlights Barak's position as a conservative among peaceniks. As a member of the outgoing government, he often staked out positions to the right of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of the centrist Kadima party.
Barak was criticized by the left for failing to dismantle unauthorized settlement outposts and allowing the expansion of recognized Jewish settlements despite the negative impact of that stance on peace negotiations with the Palestinians.