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Barak Does One More About-Face Before Election

Monday, August 27, 2001 | Tag Cloud Tags: ,

Following the very sort of zig-zag pattern that has brought him into such disfavor with Israeli voters, Prime Minister Ehud Barak has reversed course and said he is now open to a possible meeting with PLO chief Yasser Arafat before the Israeli election next Tuesday.

Only three days ago, Barak was so riled by Arafat's hostile anti-Israel speech at an economic forum in Davos, Switzerland that he scrapped tentative plans - made at the urging of the European Union - to hold a summit with the Palestinian leader ahead of the February 6 balloting for a new premier. In his remarks to world leaders gathered this past weekend in Davos, Arafat charged Israel with waging a "savage and barbaric war" against the Palestinians, a "fascist military aggression" that included the use of shells tipped with depleted uranium.

But when European government officials scolded Arafat in private for spoiling their initiative, the PLO chieftain seemed to change his tune. On Monday evening, Israel TV CHANNEL TWO aired exclusive interviews with Arafat and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak that reflected a friendlier disposition towards Barak, while both leaders took a few jabs at Likud candidate Ariel Sharon.

While Arafat's tone seemed less combative than on Sunday, the substance of his remarks still had some bite. He insisted there could be no peace without Israel's full withdrawal from Judea/Samaria and Gaza, and he repeated his charge that the IDF has used depleted uranium weapons against his people. Arafat disagreed with the interviewer's observation that Barak had gone farther in his concessions than anyone else. But he also called the recent Taba talks "a step forward," countering his own negotiating team's description of the sessions as "empty talk."

Based on these remarks, Barak changed his mind by Tuesday and said he was again ready to "contemplate" an election-eve encounter with Arafat, if one could be suitably arranged by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and European officials. Several nearby countries have been named as possible hosts for the summit. Palestinian cabinet minister Yasser Abed Rabbo said today that it could take place as late as next Monday - the day before Israelis go to the polls.

A Barak spokesman said Arafat's condemnation of the murder of Ofra resident Arieh Hershkovitz was also noted by Barak. Asked if Barak is worried about how this flip-flop will look to the public, he said Barak "is concerned about what is good for the country, not about how things appear."

In his interview with Israeli TV, Arafat joined Mubarak in expressing reservations over a likely Sharon victory in polling next Tuesday. Commenting on Sharon's proposal for a Palestinian state in only 42% of Judea/Samaria, Arafat said "I heard completely different plans at Wye River" in 1997.

Mubarak blamed Sharon for sparking the intifada by visiting the Temple Mount, and also referred to the 1982 Sabra and Shatilla massacres in Lebanon, which Sharon has been indirectly blamed for allowing to occur. He said that, unlike his relationship with Barak, he has no connection with Sharon and that the last time he saw him was in the spring of 1982.

Mubarak said that if Sharon turns to him out of an interest in regional security, "then welcome." If not, however, Mubarak said he will not "waste" his time. Mubarak also took sharp issue with recent comments by Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman - touted by some as a potentially dangerous coalition partner for Sharon - about bombing the Aswan Dam in case of war.

At first, Sharon's spokeswoman Odelia Karmon said that he was not worried by Mubarak's comments, because "he does not intend to call him anyway." But yesterday, Sharon claimed he had worked very hard to "advance relations with Egypt," and that he places a great deal of importance on Israel's links with the country.

Meanwhile, MA'ARIV reported a deal was nearly struck last week at Taba in which the Palestinian Authority would have agreed not to press for the return of refugees to Israel proper, and would defer a decision on sovereignty over Jerusalem's Temple Mount for five years. Nonetheless, any progress at Taba appears to be too little and too late to salvage Barak's bid for re-election. Any campaign advantage gained by disclosing Palestinian concessions would have been offset by demands to know what Israel gave in return.

Used with Permission from International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.

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Worthy Christian News » World News » Barak Does One More About-Face Before Election