JERUSALEM (JTA) -- Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has split from the Labor party, which he serves as chairman, to form a new party.
Four other Labor lawmakers joined Barak on Monday: Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon; Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai; Deputy Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Orit Noked; and freshman Knesset member Einat Wilf.
The new party is expected to be called Atzmaut, or Independence. "We are creating a faction, a movement and eventually a party that will be centrist, Zionist and democratic," Barak told reporters Monday.
Following Barak's split with the party, three Labor government ministers announced that they would leave Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government coalition: Social Affairs Minister Isaac Herzog, Minister for Minority Affairs Avishay Braverman; and Minister of Industry, Trade and Labor Benjamin Ben-Eliezer.
Barak's exit from the Labor Party was facilitated by Netanyahu and his officials, several Israeli media outlets charged, citing unnamed sources.
Netanyahu has already begun negotiations to keep the new faction in his government. If successful, he will maintain a parliamentary majority, despite the exit of other Labor ministers.
Several Labor lawmakers have in recent weeks threatened to quit the coalition over the lack of progress in peace negotiations with the Palestinians.
Opposition leader Tzipi Livni, head of the Kadima party, called on Netanyahu to call for new elections, saying that: "The Netanyahu government lost its legitimacy today and is living off small political maneuvers. The only way for political opportunism is elections, and Kadima is reiterating its call for elections
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