March 24, 2009 - 12:00am

JERUSALEM // The prime minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu and the outgoing defence minister Ehud Barak drafted a pact that would unite their Likud and Labour parties in Israel’s next government, Israeli radio said.

The preliminary coalition deal awaited ratification in an afternoon vote by centre-left Labour’s executive, many of whose members oppose playing junior partner to the rightist Likud given its limited interest in peace talks with the Palestinians.

Under the agreement, Mr Barak would remain defence minister, the radio reports said.

Mr Netanyahu has already found allies in the ultranationalist Yisrael Beitenu party and the Orthodox Jewish party Shas, but wants to avoid establishing a narrow right-wing government that might put him on a collision course with US President Barack Obama, who has vowed to shepherd the Palestinian track forward.

Israel’s Army Radio, reporting the signing between Likud and Labour, said the pact included a clause committing Mr Netanyahu “to all diplomatic and international agreements to date” with the Palestinians, who won limited self-rule under a 1993 accord.

Spokesmen for Likud and Labour had no immediate comment.

With Labour’s support, Mr Netanyahu would have 66 seats in the 120-member parliament.


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