Israel's Barak rejects joining Netanyahu cabinet

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Mar 09 2009 12:17 AM | Updated as of Mar 09 2009 08:17 AM

JERUSALEM - Israeli defence minister and Labour party leader Ehud Barak on Sunday said he would not join a government led by Benjamin Netanyahu after the premier-designate reached a deal with an ultra-nationalist party.

"There is no basis for opening a dialogue on joining Labour party to join a coalition due to the sweeping adoption of the demands of Yisrael Beitenu's chairman Avigdor Lieberman," Barak was quoted as telling Netanyahu.

Representatives of Netanyahu's right-wing Likud party and Lieberman's hardline Yisrael Beitenu party appear to have moved closer to a coalition deal in recent days, in which Lieberman would be named foreign minister.

Barak, in a phone conversation with Netanyahu, said Labour would not enter a coalition in which Lieberman -- who faces a police investigation over corruption suspicions -- would have power "in the appointment of the heads of all law enforcement authorities," Barak's office said in a statement.

Yisrael Beitenu was to hold several key portfolios in Netanyahu's cabinet, including the justice ministry and will also have a representative in a committee naming judges, according to media reports.

Labour suffered its worst ever showing in the February 10 election, winning just 13 seats in the 120-member parliament and slipping into fourth place after Kadima, Likud and Yisrael Beitenu.

Immediately after last month's election defeat Barak indicated that Labour would join the ranks of the opposition, but he has since held several talks with Netanyahu to the great ire of many of his party members.

Media reports suggested Barak wants to retain his post as defence minister.