Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

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11 Sivan 5759 - May 26, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Coalition Talks With Barak's Team Begin

by E. Rauchberger and Yated Ne'eman Staff

Ehud Barak wants to set up a government that is as broad as possible, to include Meretz, Shas and Likud, according to senior members of the Yisrael Achat party. They stressed that they believed that this was possible, though it certainly is not an easy task.

Barak would prefer to set up a government that would have over 90 seats, representing three-quarters of the members of Knesset. This would give it considerable weight, and would also not allow any individual party to hold the government hostage to its demands. Some observers said that Barak was as concerned about pressure from the Left as from the Right, after seeing how effectively Meretz controlled the previous Labor government of Yitzhak Rabin.

Israeli Prime Minister elect Ehud Barak reportedly presented potential coalition partners 10-points outlining his policy goals. They were not officially made public, but there were many reports in the press.

The points are said to be the following:

* Security and an unrelenting fight against terrorism are top priorities;

* Jerusalem will remain united under Israeli sovereignty;

* Israel will not withdraw from all of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip; and

* A majority of Jewish settlers will live in settlement blocs under Israeli sovereignty -- a statement that implies smaller settlements will be dismantled.

The remaining points deal with such domestic issues as education and embarking on a war on poverty.

The points are reported to make no mention of resuming negotiations with Syria and Lebanon.

Barak's negotiating team began discussions Monday with four leftist and moderate parties that are seen to be the closest to Yisrael Achat: Meretz, Yisrael Ba'Aliyah, the Center Party and Shinui.

After the talks, the head of Barak's negotiating team, David Libai, said there was enough common ground that initial talks with the four parties could be concluded before the end of the week.

The four parties were ready to be flexible in order to allow more hawkish groups such as the Likud and the National Religious Party to be able to join the coalition, said Libai, who served as justice minister in the former Labor government.

On Tuesday the team is expected to meet with the Arab parties and the party of Amir Peretz in the morning, followed by the Likud and Shas in the afternoon. On Wednesday meetings are expected with Mafdal, United Torah Judaism (UTJ), Yisrael Beiteinu, and the National Union.

Barak, meanwhile, continued to keep his cards close to his vest regarding his coalition preferences and also detailed proposals for action. There were reports in the press that he intends to impose a capital tax, but these were vigorously denied.

Outgoing Foreign Minister Ariel Sharon, who reportedly may be offered the same position in the new government, told a party meeting Sunday that Likud should remain open to joining the new government, but not at any price. ``If we're invited [to join the coalition] it will be based on our ability to go in a way that is similar or close to our way," Sharon said. ``But under no conditions should we run to them.''

Absent from Sunday's meeting was outgoing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who resigned as party leader after his electoral defeat. Netanyahu plans to resign from the Knesset this week, his aides said Monday. Netanyahu has numerous offers to make lecture appearances and he has a standing offer to write a book about his tenure in office, they added.

Special difficulties with Likud's joining are not expected, beyond the already difficult problem of finding respectable jobs for senior members of the Likud along with senior members of Barak's own party. However there may be more problems with Shas.

Barak is said to insist that Arye Deri may not lead the party, whether openly or behind the scenes. Many felt that this was a very difficult condition since its intrusive nature makes it demeaning to the party.

The other main point is that Shas will not be allowed to retain the Interior Ministry portfolio, and most observers did not see that as providing an obstacle as long as the party is offered another appropriate ministry.

Last week Deri announced his resignation as an MK but he also declared, "I am not quitting," explaining that he remains head of the movement. He lodging his appeal against the district court sentence with the Supreme Court this week.

Barak and his team of coalition negotiators said they expected to pass a so-called Norwegian law. This law would mandate that ministers retire as MKs, thus enabling those lower down the Knesset list who failed to make the cut, to move up and enter parliament. It was also discussed at the beginning of the 14th Knesset, but all previous attempts to implement the Norwegian law have failed.

Meretz said that it demanded that talks start on the Syrian and Lebanese tracks from where there were left off three years ago; a freeze on all Jewish development in the territories; the territories should be removed from the list of high-priority development zones (A and B); and the establishment of a constitution, including the right to freedom of religion and freedom from religious coercion. They also demanded that civil marriages and divorces should be recognized; yeshiva students should be drafted for military service and other social and political points.

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