Trailing badly in the latest polls, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak's campaign for re-election has charged opponent Ariel Sharon with sparking the recent Palestinian intifada, contradicting his government's official position to the outside world.
Barak's public relations campaign chairman MK Elie Goldschmidt denied Saturday that the campaign has contradicted government policy, and Barak's own statements, by hinting that Likud candidate Ariel Sharon's September 28 visit to the Temple Mount contributed to the ongoing wave of Palestinian violence.
According to press reports late last week, Israel presented a document to the Mitchell fact-finding committee in which it argues that the violence was not a spontaneous reaction to Sharon's visit, as the Palestinians claim and as much of the world believes, but was a process planned earlier by the Palestinian leadership to gain diplomatic points. The document presents statements from various Palestinian leaders to support this position. The document follows the position that Barak presented around the world in October and November, absolving Sharon of blame for the visit, which he approved from a security standpoint.
However, as the campaign intensifies, Barak has been openly critical of the visit, alleging on several occasions that it would be an irony if Sharon were elected despite his role in inflaming religious tension over the Temple Mount.
Justice Minister Yossi Beilin, who heads Barak's public relations campaign in the Arab sector, placed an advertisement in Arab newspapers on Friday showing Sharon ascending the Temple Mount, in an effort to convince Arabs to go to the polls to ensure that Sharon is not elected.
Goldschmidt said the campaign does not explicitly blame Sharon for triggering the violence, but it does call the visit an example of Sharon's recklessness and poor judgment. He denied that there has been a change in Barak's policy on the visit since the election campaign began. A spokesman for the campaign said a fine line is being drawn in saying Sharon contributed to the intifada, but not that he caused it.
Likud whip Reuven Rivlin said that regardless of how the Barak campaign draws the line, this is another example of the prime minister contradicting himself and changing policies out of desperation. "Barak told the president of France that Sharon did not do anything wrong and that Jews are free to enter their religious sites, but now suddenly when he sees catastrophe in the opinion polls, he has no standards," Rivlin said.
Other controversial anti-Sharon ads initiated by Beilin in the Arab sector have shown Palestinians killed in the massacres at Sabra and Shatilla during the 1980s war in Lebanon. Barak agreed to "review" the ads after Likud MKs charged they were a dangerous incitement against Sharon.
In response to the hard-ball tactics, Sharon simply urged Barak and his associates to "behave more nicely"in conducting their campaign.
In related news, the Meimad faction decided Sunday night not to express support for Barak in the race for prime minister. The members of the faction, a partner in Barak's One Israel coalition, have been given the freedom to vote as they see fit for now. The party will choose between the two candidates at a later date. The decision was a compromise between the hawkish element of the party, headed by Rabbi Yehuda Gilad, and the faction's dovish camp, headed by Yitzhak Frankental of the Netivot Shalom movement.
In another development, Sharon met with Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef late Sunday night and received his endorsement in return for accepting the party's demands. Sharon is expected to agree to commit to continue the status quo on yeshiva student draft deferments and to promise additional help for Shas's beleaguered school system, as well as to pledge to involve them in his decisions on the peace process and who is appointed as education minister.
Used with Permission from International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.