Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

28 Shevat 5761 - Febuary 21, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Barak-Burg Deal Boosts Chances for Unity Coalition
by Yated Ne'eman Staff

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 is formed.

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 portfolio.

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 Labor.

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 viable alternative.

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 agreements."

"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 Barak.

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.


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