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World: Israel in political turmoil as violence continues

By KARIN LAUB, Associated Press JERUSALEM (November 29, 2000 2:01 p.m. EST - As a bloody conflict with the Palestinians claims more lives each day, Israel has been plunged into political turmoil by an overwhelming parliament vote to hold new elections, two years ahead of schedule.

With his political future and Mideast peacemaking on the line, Prime Minister Ehud Barak agreed Tuesday to hold an early vote in a surprise move to take the initiative from the hard-line opposition.

Amid the political maneuvers, Israeli-Palestinian violence persisted. An Israeli motorist was critically wounded in a West Bank shooting ambush. In the Gaza Strip, Israeli soldiers fired on Palestinians trying to cut through a border fence. The army said there were fatalities, but that it did not know how many.

In recent days, there had been a lull in Israeli-Palestinian violence. The ebb was attributed to the holy month of Ramadan, when Muslims fast from dawn to dusk, and to cool, rainy weather.

Representatives of Barak's One Israel alignment and the opposition Likud party met briefly Wednesday to try to agree on a date for elections. Opposition leader Ariel Sharon said elections should be held quickly, "even before Passover," the Jewish holiday that begins April 7.

One Israel did not propose a date, but planned to do so Monday, said party spokesman Gilad Haymann.

In a new twist, Sharon said Wednesday he was still open to holding new coalition talks if Barak issues an invitation. The early elections bill still faces two more readings, giving Barak several more weeks of political maneuvering.

However, it appeared unlikely that the prime minister would reverse himself after having rejected the idea of a broad coalition just a day earlier. Sharon has said he would only join the government if given veto powers over Barak's peace efforts, something the prime minister has said he is unwilling to do.

Nabil Shaath, a Palestinian negotiator, said he was still hopeful a peace accord can be reached before the Israeli elections and despite two months of violence that have killed more than 280 people, most of them Palestinians.

"Barak still has six months until the coming elections, and if he wants, he can stop his aggression and adopt a new policy that will enable him to go to his people with progress in the peace process," Shaath said.

Saeb Erekat, the top Palestinian negotiator, said Israelis have a choice in the coming months.

"It's too early to predict the effect of this thing (the election) on the peace process but we are telling all the Israelis that it is either peace or the continuation of aggression and settlement," he said, adding a warning that the Israeli government not use the election as an excuse to intensify its crackdown.

In fact, reaching a peace agreement with the Palestinians in the next few months was widely seen as Barak's only chance to get re-elected.

Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami suggested that elections could serve as a referendum on a peace deal. "If we reach an agreement - we are facing general elections - the people will judge it," he said on Israel army radio. "They can decide that they don't want it."

Polls have indicated that without an agreement in hand, Barak would be narrowly defeated by Sharon and trounced by former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Sharon said the Likud would hold primaries to elect its candidate for prime minister, and that he would seek the job. Netanyahu has not formally announced his political plans, though he has been increasingly active in recent weeks, giving speeches and TV interviews.

Barak's popularity plummeted in recent months. Barak, Israel's most decorated soldier, is being perceived by a growing number of Israelis as ineffective because he has been unable to stop the violence and has failed to make progress toward a peace deal.

The push for early elections began in earnest Tuesday when the hard-line opposition presented five election bills for a vote. As the day progressed, it appeared increasingly likely the legislation would pass in its first reading.

Midway through what was shaping up as a lengthy debate, Barak unexpectedly announced that he was dropping his resistance to early elections. "I do not flinch from elections," Barak told parliament.

Barak's decision paved the way for the overwhelming approval of the legislation.

Israel radio said a leading One Israel figure, parliament Speaker Avraham Burg, may challenge Barak for party leadership. Only 18 months ago, Barak was celebrated by his party after defeating Netanyahu in a landslide.

U.S. officials said the developments were not unexpected.

"This has been conjectured in Israel for some time, so I don't know we were surprised by it," said P.J. Crowley, spokesman for President Clinton's National Security Council.

Palestinian officials said privately that a peace deal would probably have to be concluded while Clinton is still in office, since a new administration would need months to get up to speed on the complicated talks.

Barak reiterated Tuesday that peace agreements with Israel's neighbors remain his top priority. However, in a warning to the Palestinians, he said he will "not make peace at any price."

Elsewhere Tuesday, Israel's security problems with Lebanon: The Hezbollah guerrilla group's commander for south Lebanon, Nabil Kaouk, said the group does not recognize the Lebanese-Israeli border demarcated by the United Nations and will continue to attack Israel.,4382,500284719-500448958-502924966-0,00.html

-- Martin Thompson (, November 29, 2000


Having lived in Jerusalem, and knowing the sentiments of the "common people" there, I believe that the peace Isra-el is seeking can only be found on the other side of war.

I am not in favor of ANY war, but I think it is inevitable in any case.

Given that time constraints have been set before the "players" it seems rather likely that Isra-el will feel backed into a corner, and go to WMD. This of course will only invite the Arab nations to respond in kind, though I doubt they will be permitted the opportunity of a first strike. Isra-el can and likely will take out the oil fields.

Nuclear war in Isra-el is WW111, since once the first missile is launched, a domino effect is inevitable, and there won't be a country on earth that is not involved.

I see this as a no win situation. Barak CANNOT give away what he would like to in order to save his political career. The Jewish people just won't recognize any peace treaty that gives to Palestine, Lebanon, and Syria what they want.

So, Barak is damned if he does, and damned if he doesn't. That being the case, I hope everyone has their K1, and antibiotics etc. I think we are shortly going to need them. FWIW, - Jesse.

-- Jesse (, November 30, 2000.

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