A compromise worked out Monday between Prime Minister Ehud
Barak and one of the leading candidates as his successor as
head of the Labor Party, Knesset Speaker Avraham Burg,
increased the likelihood that the Likud and Labor will be
able to finalize terms for a national-unity government by
the Likud's deadline of next Monday.
According to the agreement, which was mediated by Labor
secretary-general Ra'anan Cohen, Barak would serve as
defense minister but announce a date to resign the Labor
chairmanship and quit the Knesset as soon as the government
Cohen said the party's long-awaited central committee
meeting will take place no later than Monday and will likely
set a June 28 date for party primaries. The committee is to
vote separately on approving entry into a national-unity
government and the party's list of ministers.
Channel 2 reported that, as part of the compromise, Barak
will also agree not to run again for the party chairmanship
in the primaries.
The compromise is seen as a maneuver by Barak to overcome a
challenge in the central committee from his rival, Interior
Minister Chaim Ramon. Barak spent the day meeting with
central committee members in the Prime Minister's Office to
convince them to support his decision to accept the Defense
Talks between the Likud and Labor are to resume Wednesday.
Cohen expressed hope that the meeting will finally resolve
remaining differences between the parties about the drafting
of yeshiva students, the mechanism for coordinating decision-
making in the coalition, and the ministries allocated to
Cohen said that Labor's negotiating team will then meet to
approve final terms for entering the government with the
participation of Ramon, who quit the team over the weekend
but is expected to return Wednesday.
Likud's negotiators said the Likud can wait patiently for
Labor's meeting, but Ehud Olmert, Jerusalem mayor and head
of the negotiating team, issued an ultimatum that an
agreement must be reached by next Monday and Likud MK Silvan
Shalom said a "narrow" government of 66 MKs is still a
Barak told a meeting of Labor's Knesset faction in the
Knesset that it is possible for the unity government to be
established within days, but Labor had a list of new
conditions for entering the coalition.
Reacting to statements by Sharon that diplomacy will be
handled by the Prime Minister's Office, Barak said the
party's foreign and defense ministers must be given full
authority over their portfolios.
He said he will insist that the government adopt a
diplomatic policy of seeking "agreements for peace in
stages," rather than the current term "interim
"We cannot merely be Sharon's soldiers, contracted to carry
out the policies of the Right," Barak said. "I am talking
about a partnership for shaping [policy] and leading the
government in all areas."
The prime minister said Labor will not join a coalition with
the National Union-Yisrael Beiteinu faction, which he termed
a party of extremists and "transferrists." The new condition
followed faction whip MK Ophir Pines-Paz's announcement that
he would oppose joining a government with the right-wing
party in the central committee. Previously Barak had agreed
to their presence.
Likud MK Uzi Landau criticized Barak's insistence on
disqualifying a party, saying it is proof that he has a
"problematic personality," which will make working with him
very difficult. However, Landau said he supports forming a
national-unity government, even though he is not a fan of
Sharon spent Monday working to make sure he would have more
moderate elements in his government, meeting with Center
Party leader Amnon Lipkin-Shahak and Gesher leader David
Levy. Sharon asked Shahak to join the government, but did
not offer any specific portfolio.
Sharon was to meet with Lieberman, Ze'evi, and Yisrael
Ba'aliya leader Natan Sharansky.