Jerusalem: Defence Minister Ehud Barak said on Monday that he was leaving the iconic Labor Party and forming a new faction in Parliament, completing a split in the party over the handling of peace talks with the Palestinians.
The move did not immediately threaten Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's parliamentary majority, but will likely rob the coalition of its most moderate members.
Barak, a former prime minister and one of the most powerful members of the government, is expected to stay in the ruling coalition with four followers. But Labor's eight remaining members were expected to quit, leaving Netanyahu with only a narrow majority of 66 seats in the 120-seat chamber.
"It's clear to me that's what will happen," said Cabinet Minister Avishai Braverman, a Labor lawmaker not splitting off to join the new Barak-led faction.
Barak, along with his four allies, announced his move in a letter obtained by a news agency. A formal announcement was expected later Monday.
Barak made the move to pre-empt growing discontent within Labor over his support of the government's handling of peace efforts with the Palestinians.
With talks stalled for more than three months, an increasing number of Labor members had urged him to pull out of the government because of the impasse. One member, Daniel Ben-Simon, quit the party last week to protest Barak's decision to remain in the government.
Labor is the most dovish faction in an otherwise hardline government.
First Published: Monday, January 17, 2011, 13:49