Israeli coalition under threat over peace talks deadlock

Labor Party threatened to pull out of govt in 2 months if talks didnt start.

Jerusalem: The deadlock in the Middle East
peace efforts may threaten Israel`s ruling coalition, with
key ministers of the Labour Party warning to withdraw support
to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu`s government unless there
is progress in negotiations with the Palestinians.

Three Labour ministers, Avishay Braverman, Isaac
Herzog and Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, called on the party Chairman
and Defence Minister Ehud Barak to issue the ultimatum to

"The time has come for us to stand up for ourselves
and speak clearly," he said, adding, "If we don`t do so,
Netanyahu will remain tied to the right-wing forum of seven
and will submit daily to the extortion of Shas (party)and of
Avigdor Lieberman (ultra-nationalist foreign minister) on
every significant matter," he said.

They threatened yesterday to withdraw support to
Netanyahu unless there is a progress in peace talks with the

A very stormy meeting is expected today when the
lawmakers of the party get together.

Direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians, the
first for nearly two years, began on September 2 but stalled
just three weeks later when a 10-month Israeli
settlement-building freeze expired and Netanyahu refused to
renew it.

Braverman, who serves as Minister of Minority Affairs,
called on Barak to hold a Labour Party convention immediately,
which would vote to send the warning to the government.

"Our time has come to impose an ultimatum," Braverman

The senior ministers` threat comes in the wake of a
Ha`aretz report yesterday that the White House and the US
State Department are furious with Barak over the stalled peace

The Israeli Defence Minister is said to have misled
officials in the US administration regarding his ability to
convince the Netanyahu government to move the peace process

However, US State Department spokesman, Philip J.
Crowley, said yesterday in Washington that the administration
would continue working with Barak.

"We have tremendous respect for Minister Barak and he
remains a main channel of communication between the U.S and
Israel," Crowley said.

"We will continue working with him on a full range of
issues of mutual interest for both countries," he said, but
several other administration officials are reported to have
conveyed to Ha`aretz the administration`s disappointment with

Industry, Trade and Labour Minister, Benjamin
Ben-Eliezer, suggested to give the government until April a
chance before the Labour Party quits.

"If there is no political progress within several
months, we have to quit the government," he said.

Social Affairs Minister, Isaac Herzog, who also
supports the ultimatum, said Netanyahu "must understand that
his government is in danger."