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Sharon Closing In On National Unity Government

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

Likud leader Ariel Sharon's decisive win in last week's election and the subsequent escalation in Palestinian violence have spurred calls for Labor to hurry up and join a unity coalition.

Labor and Likud negotiating teams plan to meet Wednesday evening to finishing drafting a coalition agreement for a national unity government by the start of next week, with cabinet assignments and talks with smaller parties still pending. Labor is tentatively planning to convene its central committee on Monday to approve the unity accord, and the proposal is expected to pass. Likud says it would then need another five days to complete coalition arrangements with other potential partners, so the new government would not be brought before the Knesset until late this month at the earliest. The deadline for Knesset approval of Sharon's government and policies is March 30, or new general elections are automatically triggered.

To rush things along, both parties agreed to drop key demands on the peace process from the coalition policy guidelines. According to the latest draft, the new government will honor accords approved by the Knesset, but not former US President Bill Clinton's bridging proposals or any arrangement reached with the Palestinians in the recent Taba talks. It will seek a long-term interim agreement with the Palestinians, which would require painful concessions by both sides. Permanent peace will be negotiated with Syria and Lebanon on the basis of UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, which call for trading land for peace.

Likud agreed to delete any reference to guaranteeing the integrity of Jerusalem, or holding on to the Golan Heights. Likud MK Avraham Hirschson is still demanding that the Jerusalem clause be inserted, as "Jerusalem was the major issue in the election, and it was that which gave Sharon his sweeping victory."

The current draft of guidelines allows "natural growth" in existing settlements, but says that no new settlements will be established. When Sharon and caretaker Prime Minister Ehud Barak next meet, they are slated to discuss two further Labor demands - a clause saying Israel does not reject the idea of a Palestinian state, and an agreement in principle that isolated settlements will be evacuated.

Labor also wants a mechanism to give it real influence on the government's decisions, while Likud has said it does not want to give Labor a veto over diplomatic moves. Sharon and Barak likely will agree on a "dual mechanism" in which a forum comprised of Sharon and the new head of the Labor Party would make crucial decisions.

On other key issues, the two parties agreed to support a repeal of the law for direct election of prime minister. A separate negotiating group will work out the tricky question of the government's stance on drafting yeshiva students, which would impact the participation of Shas and United Torah Judaism in the coalition.

Following the intensive negotiations, Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert quipped, "I hope that the next time the Left negotiates with the Palestinians, it will adopt as tough a negotiating stance as it has with representatives of the prime minister-elect."

It is still not clear whether it will be Barak or a party committee who will appoint Labor ministers in the new government. MK Weizman Shiri, who is close to Barak, said he expects him to decide by the end of the week whether he will accept the defense portfolio for himself. Barak carefully reiterated Tuesday that he intends to resign from the Knesset and party leadership, while leaving room to accept the portfolio.

The Likud offered Labor two of the three top portfolios - foreign affairs, defense, and finance - fully expecting Labor to take the first two and leave the Treasury in the hands of the Likud - most likely MK Silvan Shalom or Meir Sheetrit. However, at a meeting of Labor's negotiating team yesterday, MK Haim Ramon said he thinks Likud is starting to repent of its generous offer.

On the Likud side, Sharon already began to apologize to MKs in his party who expect portfolios but will come up empty-handed, telling faction members, "With a national-unity government, you cannot get everything you want."

While there may be a majority in Likud who favor a national unity government, not everyone wants to see Barak as defense minister, while others cannot tolerate a possible appointment of dovish Labor MK Shimon Peres as foreign minister.

Former Likud prime minister Yitzhak Shamir said he regrets Likud leaders are willing to "give away everything" in exchange for a national unity government. "It's one thing to have Ehud Barak in defense," Shamir said, "but Peres must under no circumstances be allowed to be foreign minister."

Likud MK Haim Katz said Tuesday that Barak's smashing electoral defeat shows that the people want him out of office. He is supported in this view by Knesset Speaker Avraham Burg, the leading contender to replace Barak as head of Labor. Katz added that based on Barak's history of zig-zagging, he is unworthy to serve in a senior government position. MK Yisrael Katz is organizing a rally against Barak as defense minister for Sunday.

There are also those in Labor still strongly opposed to joining the Sharon government. Justice Minister Yossi Beilin issued a harsh attack on his colleagues, and MK Avi Yehezkel quit the negotiating team, saying that there was a decision from the start to enter the government.

Used with Permission from International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.

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Worthy Christian News » World News » Sharon Closing In On National Unity Government