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A vulnerable Barak pursues deal

Israel's foreign minister quits, but with parliament dissolved, and the public's support, Barak has time.

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Prime Minister Ehud Barak's political opponents are sharpening their knives.

Since his return from the failed Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, Mr. Barak has faced two no-confidence votes, a call for early elections, and the surprise defeat of his presidential candidate, Shimon Peres, to an unknown conservative. Yesterday, the foreign minister resigned to protest Barak's reported bargaining positions at the Camp David talks.

His foes say the week's events sound a political death knell for Barak and his peace deal. But the obituaries may be premature. Analysts say that in many ways the outlook for Barak's political survival and for peace is as good as ever.

Knesset hiatus

Domestic politics may be as much to blame for Barak's woes as unhappiness with the offers he allegedly made to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. And while the clock may be ticking for Israel's prime minister, he has two aces left to play. One is a public that seems to favor peace; the other is a parliamentary summer break that began yesterday.

Barak will have the next few weeks to work on a peace deal with diminished political interference. Since his career may depend on delivering the goods, analysts say that he'll do everything it takes to forge an agreement.

"The prospects for peace are now somehow greater because the pressure on Barak is so much greater," says Leslie Susser, a Jerusalem-based commentator on domestic politics. "This is his only way out."

In this scenario, Barak would hammer out a peace deal with the Palestinians before the Knesset, or Israeli parliament, reconvenes in October. Because he is politically too weak to put together the coalition necessary to win parliamentary approval for his plan, he would immediately resign and call elections. This contest would serve as a referendum on whatever peace package Barak and Mr. Arafat manage to create.


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