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      Barak Gaining Influence, Meeting With Fayyad

      With declining influence in the party he leads, DM Barak is assigned more responsibility within the gov't – meeting with PA PM Salam Fayyad today.
      By Hillel Fendel
      First Publish: 7/5/2010, 9:30 AM / Last Update: 7/5/2010, 9:22 AM

      Flash 90

      With declining influence in the party he leads, Defense Minister Ehud Barak  is assigned more responsibility within the government – meeting with PA prime minister Salam Fayyad today.

      Barak Supports Unilateral Withdrawals
      Though generally talks with foreign entities are led by the Foreign Minister, Defense Minister Barak is scheduled to meet with Fayyad at 1:30 this afternoon. No details have been provided on location or on the agenda to be discussed.

      Famous for his unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon in one night a decade ago, his offer of 98% of Judea and Samaria to Yasser Arafat seven years ago, and his recent praise for the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza of five years ago, Barak has apparently been recently assigned a position of strong influence in the Netanyahu government in the framework of talks with the Palestinian Authority.

      Barak told reporters last week that a meeting was to be held, and said, “This is not the first time we are meeting... I assume we will talk about the situation on the ground and security coordination.”

      Netanyahu to Washington
      Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, on his way today (Monday) to Washington to meet with U.S. President Barack Obama, called yesterday for direct talks with the PA. He said that the time has come for PA chairman Abbas to meet with him directly. “One who wants peace is not afraid of direct talks,” he said.

      More Pressure Feared
      Israel agreed to a ten-month freeze on Jewish construction in Judea and Samaria simply in order to get the PA to agree to indirect talks. It is now feared that Israel will be pressured to agree to the continuation of the freeze in order to enable direct talks.

      Barak Under Fire Within Party
      Barak, for his part, has long been under fire within his own Labor Party, and tensions between him and others have intensified in recent days. Former party leader Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, currently the Industry and Trade Minister, yelled at Barak and threatened him in front of reporters and party members yesterday.

      The issue concerned Ben-Eliezer’s secret meeting with Turkey’s Foreign Minister last week. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman was not informed in advance of the meeting, and publicly criticized Prime Minister Netanyahu for this. Barak, for his part, capitalized on the tensions by telling Lieberman and reporters that he had opposed the meeting – which angered Ben-Eliezer, who said that Barak had told him privately that he supported the meeting.

      Barak does not enjoy great support within his abbreviated, 13-MK, left-wing faction. Many of the MKs do not support the party’s membership in the Netanyahu coalition.

      On the nationalist side of the spectrum, Netanyahu has been criticized for giving Barak too much say in political matters, particularly the construction freeze. Barak has unilaterally expanded the freeze to include more than the original Cabinet decision stipulated.