Barak Gov’t Teeters
06/09/00
Staff Writer
The broad-based coalition government handcrafted by Prime Minister Ehud Barak to win support for his peace initiatives began to unravel this week even as Israeli and Palestinian negotiators were slated to resume talks Monday in Washington following a two-week hiatus caused by Palestinian street rioting. “You have a government without the power to be effective and to pass all the things [Barak] talked about before the election” a year ago, said Tzipi Livni, a member of the Knesset from the opposition Likud Party. “And I’m not talking only about the peace process.” In an interview here just hours before the Knesset Wednesday voted 61 to 48 to approve an opposition bill calling for early elections, the first-term Israeli lawmaker said Barak has been weakened even if the bill does not pass a required three additional votes. “He doesn’t have a real mandate to go on,” she insisted. If the bill were adopted after a process that could take months — during which Barak could either make concessions that would keep his coalition intact or form a more narrow majority coalition — a new election would be held 90 days after the bill passed. It would mean all members of the Knesset would be up for re-election, but Barak, who is elected separately, would remain prime minister. He would then be asked to form a government based on the election results. Barak was defiant after three of his six coalition partners voted against him in Wednesday’s vote, saying: “There is a coalition and it will continue to govern.” And his office issued a statement saying Barak would make good on his threat to fire any ministers who voted against his 68-member coalition in the 120-member Knesset. “The prime minister has decided to put an end to the situation in which ministers warm their chairs and act as if they are in the opposition,” it said. Barak said he was not afraid of new elections, saying the electorate would “know how to judge the behavior of all those who would interrupt me in fulfilling my mission.” Cabinet Minister Chaim Ramon of the Labor Party appeared equally unconcerned, but for a different reason. He told reporters: “There will not be new elections.” The vote Wednesday came after Barak cut off negotiations with his largest coalition partner, Shas, over its demand that the government bail out the fervently Orthodox party’s scandal-plagued and bankrupt school system. But a Shas leader, Shlomo Ben-Izri, said his party was not interested in forcing new elections and would change its vote next time if Barak resumed talks and resolved the crisis. Nevertheless, Livni said Barak no longer had the political strength to win support for the “kind of life and death agreement” his government is trying to fashion in the peace process. “The tough decisions the Americans expect [of us] are something that even a normal coalition cannot [easily] decide,” she added. We are talking about major issues, like Jerusalem and the return of Palestinian refugees to Israel. Any prime minister cannot [easily] get [approvals on these issues], especially Barak today with the situation he is now. … We have a prime minister who is talking about being persistent, seeing his target and ignoring the obstacles. But I think a leader should see what is happening and what message he is getting from the people.” Meanwhile, there were reports that security had been increased for Barak following a warning from a leader of a Jewish settlers’ group that Barak’s “days could be numbered” if he tried to uproot Jewish settlements as part of a peace accord. Government officials warned settlers not to encourage the same kind of atmosphere that preceded the 1995 assassination of Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin by a right-wing nationalist. The president of the Orthodox Union here, Dr. Mandell Ganchrow, said that although his organization condemned such rhetoric, he was concerned that the Barak government might try to use it to subvert honest dissent. “We’re concerned that anyone who voices legitimate dissent will be considered to be subversive,” he said. “This is just as much in the spirit of anti-democracy as those who talk about [violence].” As peace talks shift to Washington next week and Palestinian President Yasir Arafat meets at the White House with President Bill Clinton Wednesday, few observers see any sign of real progress. In fact, several leading Mideast experts say the real goal is to keep the negotiations from unraveling entirely. The U.S.-motivated decision to move back to the capital “means they’re going nowhere,” said Stephen P. Cohen, president of the Institute for Middle East Peace. “It means they’re stuck.” Shifting the talks to Washington, he said, represents an effort to keep the talks from deteriorating further until the time is right for a full-scale summit between Barak and Arafat. Clinton would serve as facilitator and referee similar to the Camp David talks that resulted in the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty. But the time is not right for a summit because “neither Barak nor Arafat have much freedom right now within their own political systems as they confront real life-and-death decisions,” Cohen said. Mark Rosenblum, political director of Americans for Peace Now, said the gap between the two parties remains large “because Arafat is focused very much on interim issues such as the next Israeli withdrawal, and he has not authorized his people to go beyond those issues; Barak is pressing very much for the big-picture issues.” Prospects for a summit “are not auspicious,” he said. Israeli diplomats confirmed that a three-way summit is unlikely. But they welcomed the change in venue because of growing concern that Arafat, pressed by militants to get no less than Lebanon got after the unilateral Israeli withdrawal, is toughening his demands. An official at the Israeli embassy confirmed that his government supports the shift back to Washington “because we’ve been more critical of the Palestinians lately; we feel they have not been picking up the ball and concentrating on the historical compromises that will be necessary to move the process forward.” Bringing the talks back to Washington, where top administration officials can participate, may convince Arafat to “focus less on his internal issues and more on the decisions we have to make.” American Jewish leaders and Israeli officials are urging the administration to use next week’s Clinton-Arafat meeting to press the Palestinian leader to be more flexible, despite political pressures at home. The decision to shift the talks back to Washington came during a Mideast swing by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright that included meetings with top Israeli and Palestinian leaders, and a side trip to Cairo to meet Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk Shaara. She left that meeting, said an aide, convinced that Syria was not ready for a renewal of serious talks. Officials in Washington said the trip was made to keep lines of communication open to Damascus. And Shara said he was still hopeful that peace talks could be held before Clinton leaves office in January. “There is still a chance to reach a just and comprehensive peace,” she insisted. Washington correspondent James D. Besser contributed to this report. Barak Gov’t Teeters by Stewart Ain Staff Writer The broad-based coalition government handcrafted by Prime Minister Ehud Barak to win support for his peace initiatives began to unravel this week even as Israeli and Palestinian negotiators were slated to resume talks Monday in Washington following a two-week hiatus caused by Palestinian street rioting. “You have a government without the power to be effective and to pass all the things [Barak] talked about before the election” a year ago, said Tzipi Livni, a member of the Knesset from the opposition Likud Party. “And I’m not talking only about the peace process.” In an interview here just hours before the Knesset Wednesday voted 61 to 48 to approve an opposition bill calling for early elections, the first-term Israeli lawmaker said Barak has been weakened even if the bill does not pass a required three additional votes. “He doesn’t have a real mandate to go on,” she insisted. If the bill were adopted after a process that could take months — during which Barak could either make concessions that would keep his coalition intact or form a more narrow majority coalition — a new election would be held 90 days after the bill passed. It would mean all members of the Knesset would be up for re-election, but Barak, who is elected separately, would remain prime minister. He would then be asked to form a government based on the election results. Barak was defiant after three of his six coalition partners voted against him in Wednesday’s vote, saying: “There is a coalition and it will continue to govern.” And his office issued a statement saying Barak would make good on his threat to fire any ministers who voted against his 68-member coalition in the 120-member Knesset. “The prime minister has decided to put an end to the situation in which ministers warm their chairs and act as if they are in the opposition,” it said. Barak said he was not afraid of new elections, saying the electorate would “know how to judge the behavior of all those who would interrupt me in fulfilling my mission.” Cabinet Minister Chaim Ramon of the Labor Party appeared equally unconcerned, but for a different reason. He told reporters: “There will not be new elections.” The vote Wednesday came after Barak cut off negotiations with his largest coalition partner, Shas, over its demand that the government bail out the fervently Orthodox party’s scandal-plagued and bankrupt school system. But a Shas leader, Shlomo Ben-Izri, said his party was not interested in forcing new elections and would change its vote next time if Barak resumed talks and resolved the crisis. Nevertheless, Livni said Barak no longer had the political strength to win support for the “kind of life and death agreement” his government is trying to fashion in the peace process. “The tough decisions the Americans expect [of us] are something that even a normal coalition cannot [easily] decide,” she added. We are talking about major issues, like Jerusalem and the return of Palestinian refugees to Israel. Any prime minister cannot [easily] get [approvals on these issues], especially Barak today with the situation he is now. … We have a prime minister who is talking about being persistent, seeing his target and ignoring the obstacles. But I think a leader should see what is happening and what message he is getting from the people.” Meanwhile, there were reports that security had been increased for Barak following a warning from a leader of a Jewish settlers’ group that Barak’s “days could be numbered” if he tried to uproot Jewish settlements as part of a peace accord. Government officials warned settlers not to encourage the same kind of atmosphere that preceded the 1995 assassination of Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin by a right-wing nationalist. The president of the Orthodox Union here, Dr. Mandell Ganchrow, said that although his organization condemned such rhetoric, he was concerned that the Barak government might try to use it to subvert honest dissent. “We’re concerned that anyone who voices legitimate dissent will be considered to be subversive,” he said. “This is just as much in the spirit of anti-democracy as those who talk about [violence].” As peace talks shift to Washington next week and Palestinian President Yasir Arafat meets at the White House with President Bill Clinton Wednesday, few observers see any sign of real progress. In fact, several leading Mideast experts say the real goal is to keep the negotiations from unraveling entirely. The U.S.-motivated decision to move back to the capital “means they’re going nowhere,” said Stephen P. Cohen, president of the Institute for Middle East Peace. “It means they’re stuck.” Shifting the talks to Washington, he said, represents an effort to keep the talks from deteriorating further until the time is right for a full-scale summit between Barak and Arafat. Clinton would serve as facilitator and referee similar to the Camp David talks that resulted in the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty. But the time is not right for a summit because “neither Barak nor Arafat have much freedom right now within their own political systems as they confront real life-and-death decisions,” Cohen said. Mark Rosenblum, political director of Americans for Peace Now, said the gap between the two parties remains large “because Arafat is focused very much on interim issues such as the next Israeli withdrawal, and he has not authorized his people to go beyond those issues; Barak is pressing very much for the big-picture issues.” Prospects for a summit “are not auspicious,” he said. Israeli diplomats confirmed that a three-way summit is unlikely. But they welcomed the change in venue because of growing concern that Arafat, pressed by militants to get no less than Lebanon got after the unilateral Israeli withdrawal, is toughening his demands. An official at the Israeli embassy confirmed that his government supports the shift back to Washington “because we’ve been more critical of the Palestinians lately; we feel they have not been picking up the ball and concentrating on the historical compromises that will be necessary to move the process forward.” Bringing the talks back to Washington, where top administration officials can participate, may convince Arafat to “focus less on his internal issues and more on the decisions we have to make.” American Jewish leaders and Israeli officials are urging the administration to use next week’s Clinton-Arafat meeting to press the Palestinian leader to be more flexible, despite political pressures at home. The decision to shift the talks back to Washington came during a Mideast swing by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright that included meetings with top Israeli and Palestinian leaders, and a side trip to Cairo to meet Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk Shaara. She left that meeting, said an aide, convinced that Syria was not ready for a renewal of serious talks. Officials in Washington said the trip was made to keep lines of communication open to Damascus. And Shara said he was still hopeful that peace talks could be held before Clinton leaves office in January. “There is still a chance to reach a just and comprehensive peace,” she insisted. Washington correspondent James D. Besser contributed to this report.

Last Update:

09/10/2009 - 09:10

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