Israel's center-left Labor party has decided to join a coalition led by Benjamin Netanyahu of the right-wing Likud, breaking a 42-day-long deadlock over the formation of a cabinet from a parliament where no party enjoys a simple majority.
The right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu and ultra-Orthodox Jewish Shas, two parties known for their tough policy lines toward the Palestinians, have already agreed to join a coalition.
The Labor party was divided over whether to join a Netanyahu coalition.
Party leader and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who was offered the post in the new cabinet during earlier talks with Netanyahu, put forth a proposal for the party to join a Likud-led government at Tuesday night's convention in Tel Aviv.
After a heated debate, the proposal got the acceptance of 58 percent of the 1,071 party delegates, Israeli media reports said.
If Labor's 13 members support the Likud-led cabinet, the coalition would have 66 seats in the 120-member parliament, known as the Knesset.
However, reports say there is a possibility that the party could split as a result of the vote, with some of its members choosing to remain in the opposition.
If Netanyahu manages to form a coalition, it will mark a significant political comeback for the former prime minister.
Speaking at a crucial party convention before the vote, Barak vowed that his party would have a significant position in the coalition and added that he is not afraid of Prime Minister-designate Netanyahu.
Under the draft coalition agreement, Labor would get five cabinet posts and the government would commit to continuing negotiations with the Palestinians and to respecting previous deals made with them.
The ruling Kadima party won 28 seats in the elections held on February 10, one seat ahead of Likud, known for its hard-line approach. However, President Shimon Peres invited Likud leader Netanyahu to form a coalition, as he had more support from other members of the Knesset.
But his efforts to form a unity cabinet involving the Centrist Kadima party failed, with its leader and foreign minister Tzipi Livni ruling out the possibility of joining a coalition cabinet led by the right wing parties.
With Livni out, the Likud leader had little choice but to approach the nationalist and religious parties opposed to peacemaking with the Palestinians.
Last week, the PM-designate signed his first coalition deal with Yisrael Beiteinu, promising its leader, the controversial right-wing leader Avigdor Lieberman, the post of foreign minister.
On March 19, Netanyahu was given a two-week extension for cabinet formation, setting April 3 as the new deadline.
During his meeting with Peres, Netanyahu sought additional time to form a national unity government, the creation of which is all the more important in view of... the grave security threats and economic crisis the country is facing.
Elections were called last year as Livni failed to form a coalition cabinet after she succeeded Prime Minister Ehud Olmert as Kadima party chief in September.
Besieged by corruption allegations, Olmert stepped down as the ruling party's leader first, and as the Prime Minister, later. However, he stayed on as caretaker Prime Minister.
59-year-old Netanyahu had been the Prime Minister of Israel from 1996 to 1999. The hawkish right-wing leader has vowed to topple the Hamas-controlled Gaza regime if he comes to power.
Barak, former Israeli defense forces chief, was also Prime Minister during 1999-2001.
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