Israeli Prime Mister Begins Work
on Coalition Government
J E R U S A L E M, Oct. 23 - Prime Minister Ehud Barak made a move today
that could, if successful, freeze Mideast peace negotiations for many
He launched talks with the hawkish opposition, led by Likud party
leader Ariel Sharon, on the terms of joining his teetering government.
The leaders failed to agree on terms for a unity government but more
talks are planned, a Likud party leader said.
"The paper [Barak presented] was unacceptable but we are going to
hold another meeting in 30 hours," the party official, Silvan Shalom, told
Shalom said Likud, the main opposition party, wanted Barak's
agreement to give it "real influence" in the "diplomatic process" -
shorthand for future peace moves with the Palestinians.
Sharon and Barak met at the prime minister's office a day after the
Israeli leader declared a time-out in peacemaking in the wake of a wave of
violence sweeping the West Bank and Gaza Strip - to the chagrin of
President Clinton and dovish members of Barak's center-left government.
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was outright contemptuous of the
He said the Palestinian people were "continuing the road to
Jerusalem," which they regard as the capital of a future state. "To
accept, or not to accept - let him go to hell," he said, without
mentioning Barak by name.
Two Palestinian girls, ages 15 and 17, died today after being shot in the
head during earlier clashes with Israeli troops. One was shot in Gaza, and
the other in the West Bank city of Tol Karem. The deaths brought to 123
the number of people killed in 26 days of fighting. All but eight of those
killed have been Arabs.
Israeli troops and Palestinian militants traded gunfire today in the
main street of Hebron, an almost daily event. Also, Palestinian stone
throwers clashed with Israeli soldiers at two trouble spots in the Gaza
Strip, with 36 Palestinians wounded overall, according to hospital
In the West Bank town of Bethlehem, protesters spray-painted a donkey
to resemble the Israeli flag, and tied up the animal in the street where
rock throwers and soldiers clashed. The protesters also painted the names
of Barak and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on the donkey.
With no letup in the confrontations, the Israelis clamped down on
several Palestinian areas.
The Israelis again closed the Palestinian airport in Gaza City,
further restricting Palestinian travel. "We consider this as another step
in the hard siege on the Palestinian people," said Salman Abu Halib,
general director of Palestinian Airlines.
Also today, the army imposed a blockade on Beit Jalla, a Palestinian town
from which Palestinian gunmen have been shooting at the Jewish
neighborhood of Gilo on the southern outskirts of Jerusalem.
"This repeated firing and shooting at Jerusalem, the capital of
Israel, is not going to continue. We will take all the necessary
measures," said Lt. Commander Raanan Gissin of the Israeli Defense Forces.
On Sunday night, Israel responded to the shooting with missiles and
tank-mounted machine gun fire.
Israeli crowds, looking down on the action, cheered, chanting "death
to the Arabs."
Beit Jalla and nearby Bethlehem were plunged into darkness, a Beit
Jalla factory was destroyed and several homes damaged.
One rocket hit a children's bedroom in the home of the Nazal family
in Beit Jalla. Sohana Nazal said moments earlier she had moved her
children, George, 3, and Ghada, 2, from the room because it faces Israeli
tanks on a nearby hill.
"We heard a loud crash. We thought it [the rocket] had landed on the
street. Only when we opened the door to their room and saw all the smoke,
did we realize what had happened," Nazal said.
Hundreds of civilians have fled Beit Jalla and the nearby Aida
The Israeli army chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Shaul Mofaz, said life for
the residents of Beit Jalla can return to normal only if the shooting from
the Palestinian side stops. "If they make it impossible to conduct a
normal life on the Israeli side, I do not think we can tolerate such a
situation," Mofaz told Israel radio.
Barak today launched formal talks to broaden his coalition, which at
present controls only 30 seats in the 120-member legislature. Parliament
returns from summer recess on Sunday. If Barak fails to bring opposition
leader Ariel Sharon and his Likud party into the government, early
elections appear inevitable.
Barak and his negotiators were also met with representatives from the
ultra-Orthodox Shas Party and the dovish Meretz factions, both former
Sharon has said he would not join the government unless Barak
distances himself from concessions he offered the Palestinians in July
during the Mideast summit at Camp David, Md.
At the time, Barak was ready to give the Palestinians more than 90
percent of the West Bank, as well as control over parts of traditionally
Critics said Sharon's presence in the government would dim hopes for
"I think a national unity government … would make the prospect of
peace more distant and undermine the belief in the world that we really do
want to make peace," said Justice Minister Yossi Beilin of Barak's One
"If Sharon will have the right to veto peace negotiations, I will not
be able to sit in it [the government]," said Beilin, a key player in
previous interim accords.
The weekend's Arab summit held Israel responsible for the violence
and called for international intervention, but did not make it obligatory
for Arab governments who had made peace with Israel to sever their
relations with the Jewish state.
Clinton and Mubarak have been trying to get Barak and Arafat back to
the negotiating table. While campaigning in New York state on Sunday for
his wife's Senate campaign, Clinton spoke to Barak by telephone for 15
minutes. Clinton said he would keep working with both sides to try to get
them to honor a truce agreement worked out last week and to return to
peace talks eventually, according to White House officials.
ABC's Ghousoon Bisharat in Jerusalem and Richard Gizbert in Ramallah, West
Bank, Adaora Udoji in London, The Associated Press and Reuters contributed
to this report.
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