11 Tamuz 5759 June 25, 1999 Issue number 223
Solidarity rally for the 13 Iranian Jews being held in an Iranian prison. At Metro Square, 55 John Street. Sponsored by Bnai Brith Canada.
Sunday, June 27th 7:30 p.m
Solidarity rally for the 13 Iranian Jews being held in an Iranian prison. At Leah Posluns Theatre 4588 Bathurst St. Sponsored by UJA Federation and Canadian Jewish Congress.
"No paradox at this moment is so pressing for American Jews and Israeli Jews alike as the powerful inclination of Jews in both lands to combine an intense, almost pathologically intense, concern for politics, with a seemingly equal intense impulse to political suicide."
- Irving Kristol, speaking at the Shalem Centre, Jerusalem, June 18.
Likud Agrees to Guidelines
Prime Minister-elect Ehud Barak and the Likud's Ariel Sharon have apparently reached an agreement on coalition guidelines, based on those previously drafted with the National Religious Party. These guidelines mention "territories for peace" as the basis for negotiations with Syria, prompting Golan leaders to arrive at the Knesset late this afternoon in an attempt to dissuade the Likud negotiators from agreeing to this formulation. The Likud, however, is in fact leaning towards joining the government under these guidelines. A senior Likud source said that it is "hard for us to re-open this issue with One Israel after the NRP already agreed to it." The NRP, which itself is very close to a coalition agreement (see next article), claims that it achieved major changes in the guidelines, such as construction on Har Homa and the erasure of the clause calling for an end to benefits to Yesha communities. Shas has apparently ceded its claim to the Interior Ministry, and would instead like the Housing portfolio - which the Likud also wants.
A coalition agreement between One Israel and the NRP is reportedly closer now than ever. MK Rabbi Chaim Druckman told Arutz-7 today, "A final agreement is close, and the guidelines are almost ready, but not 100%. In the final analysis, this is not a simple government [for us], and we are trying to protect religious and national matters." Arutz-7's Haggai Segal, "The Likud wished to insert some changes in the same guidelines to which your party had already agreed. How is it that the Likud is more right-wing than you?" Rabbi Druckman responded, "When we attempted to insist on certain issues, we were told that even the previous [Likud] government didn't agree to them, so how could the new government?" He admitted that the most painful and unfortunate aspects of the government's guidelines are those that mention UN resolutions 242 and 338 - "territories for peace" - as the basis of negotiations with the Syrians on the future of the Golan Heights. "Again, we were told that [former Likud Prime Ministers] Netanyahu and Shamir already agreed to these in the past, so what do we expect? It's true that they [the Likud] went with the Israeli explanation of withdrawal from 'some territories' and not from 'all the territories,' but for me there is no difference." Explaining why the NRP is joining such a coalition, he said, "We are trying not to adopt an 'all or nothing' approach. If we would have had ten MKs, things would have been different. But the public gave us only five..." Rabbi Druckman continued, "I must point out that things are not all black: First of all, the difference between the guidelines when we first saw them and the way they are now is tremendous - like day and night. Regarding the Golan, Barak had already agreed to a referendum, but we insisted on, and received, a stipulation that a withdrawal from the Golan be contingent upon an absolute majority of 61 MKs. In addition, during the interim period until the final status talks, no new Yesha communities will be established and no existing ones will be harmed." (Arutz 7 June 23)
PA Will Prevent Jewish Prayer at Machpelah Tomb
Hevron's Deputy Mayor Kamal Dweik provided some insights yesterday into how the Machpelah Cave - one of Judaism's most ancient and holy sites - will look if Hevron is abandoned by Israel. "It is a mosque, not a synagogue," Dweik said, explaining why Jewish prayer would not be allowed. "It will be open to all visitors. It will not be divided. It is a mosque. Not a church. Not a synagogue. It is a mosque. It will be returned to being a mosque and the Jews who want to visit the mosque are welcome [but not to pray]. Jewish prayer would mean that it is a synagogue... And we refuse this thing. But to visit the Tomb of Abraham and the others, as visitors, that's OK." Interviewer Aaron Lerner of IMRA asked Dweik, "Would you expect there to be a set-up again for the Jews to pray outside the building?" The Deputy Mayor responded, "Before 1948 the Jews were praying outside. Nobody said no." He said that this would be the arrangement under Palestinian Authority rule. (Arutz 7 June 23)
Netanyahu Reveals Clinton Double Cross on Pollard Release
Binyamin Netanyahu plans in the book he is currently writing to publish several details that will considerably embarrass the president of the United States. In one of the chapters Clinton will earn the title 'International Swindler'. And this is the story.
In September '98, Yom Kippur Eve, Clinton and Netanyahu met for a conversation in the White House, during the course of which Netanyahu agreed to attend the conference at Wye Plantation with Yasser Arafat on condition that Clinton would act to immediately release the spy Jonathan Pollard. Clinton, according to Netanyahu and his closest advisors, agreed to the condition. Netanyahu explained to him that this gesture would help him to get the support from his constituents for the painful part of the agreement he expected to sign - continuation of the withdrawal from the territories. 'Bibi went to Wye knowing that Clinton would immediately release Pollard with the signing of the agreement with the Palestinians,' the advisors of the departing prime minister said this week. During the course of the Wye summit the matter of Pollard was discussed several times between Clinton and Netanyahu. There were only a few in on the great secret: ministers Sharon, Mordechai and Sharansky. At the end of the conference, at 5:00 AM, after arrangements had already been made for the signing ceremony, Clinton put his hand on Netanyahu's shoulder and asked him to step aside with him so he could tell him a few things. One of those present in the room saw Clinton and Netanyahu as they spoke from a distance. 'Netanyahu turned pale, and Clinton hugged him.' The man said this week. When Netanyahu returned to the center of the room, he told his advisors and ministers that Clinton had announced to him that he could not honor his promise to release Pollard. 'We were shocked,' said one of them. 'We thought that Bibi should go back to Clinton and tell him: 'if that is the case then there is no agreement with the Palestinians. You lied to me.' Our problem was that we did not want to find ourselves again in the terrible situation that both in Israel and the world Netanyahu would be presented as a liar, and would not talk at all about the real liar. Foreign Minster Sharon, who was summoned to the room, was of the opinion that the agreement must not be signed. Minister Sharansky also said that the signing ceremony must be postponed. At the end, after Clinton promised to continue acting for the release of Pollard, the Israeli side folded. The signing ceremony was held with some delay, and Pollard remained in prison.'
Netanyahu plans to reveal his full account in his book, in which Clinton will be presented as a scoundrel who did not intend, from the outset, to honor his part in the process that led to the Wye conference. (Yediot Ahronot June 18)
Buildings Uncovered in Gamla
Archaeological digs in the Golan Heights city of Gamla - destroyed by the Romans two millennia ago - have uncovered two impressive buildings from the Roman Era. The director of the digs, Dan Tzion, told Arutz-7 that the last of three seasons of digs has just been completed. "One of the buildings uncovered was apparently a villa of a wealthy Jew from about 1900 years ago. It has a beautifully sculpted exterior. Inside, we have almost completely excavated three of the rooms, one of which still has its stone pillars intact. In one of the rooms, we found small items attesting to the war, such as arrows." "Because of the large boulders we found close to the surface, we had hoped that the larger building would be another synagogue. It turns out that the structure was in fact a public building - 16 by 16 meters in size - but apparently not a synagogue. What kind of building it was we do not quite know, since we have never discovered another building of a similar design. Of particular interest was the finding of items such as small casks and pots. It is unusual to find these things in public buildings.
This would correspond with the theories of Josephus, who claimed that many Jews fled from the Galilee to the Golan during the rebellion. Just like today, when community centers and schools are opened for the public in times of crisis, so too they opened up synagogues and public buildings for the refugees." (Arutz 7 June 22)
Policeman to Face Disciplinary Court
The Israel Police has decided to hold a disciplinary trial of policeman Yaniv Zilberman, for his role in the injuries suffered by Kiryat Arba housewife Vered Levy earlier this year. Levy recounted the six-month old events in an interview with Arutz-7: "Two policemen showed up at my home with a warrant to arrest my husband. I told them that he was not home, that he had paid the relevant fine several days earlier, and that their warrant was expired. They insisted on conducting a search, but I said that they had no right to do so... With my 18-month old daughter at my side, I positioned myself in the doorway to prevent them from entering. They began to push us, but I continued to resist, and they started kicking me very hard; it was winter, and they were wearing heavy boots. My daughter, too, as at the receiving end of several of those kicks. At one point, one of them even broke a broom over me." Mrs. Levy added that the officers decided to arrest her for "attacking them," and "I didn't even have time to take a bottle for my daughter or warm clothing with us to the police station. When we arrived there, I asked one of the policemen if he could call a doctor for us. He refused. I was pregnant at the time, and as a result of the ordeal, I had a miscarriage," she said. Vered Levy said that the decision to have Zilberman stand disciplinary trial is a start, but that she will demand that he stand for civilian trial as well. "It is in the interest of the citizens of the State of Israel to ensure that such a person does not work as a policeman anymore." (Arutz 7 June 22)
Har Homa Boom
The third tender for construction in the eastern Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Homa has met with great success. Forty contractors have bid so far in the third round, compared to 14 in the previous two rounds. Some 1,700 housing units have been sold in Har Homa to date. (Arutz 7 June 21)
More vandalism in the old Jewish cemetery in Hevron. Pages torn out of prayer-books and desecrated with swastikas were found strewn around the cemetery. One of the Chabad-section gravestones was shattered and scattered around the area, and the evidence leads to Arab vandals. Jewish Hevron representatives ask that Chabad take a more active role in the preservation of the cemetery. Arabs threw stones at IDF soldiers at Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem today, causing no damage. (Arutz 7 June 20)
Cab Driver Almost Murdered
A Jerusalem cab driver narrowly escaped death yesterday after his taxi was hijacked by four Palestinians. The driver, Yossi Shimon, told Arutz-7 today that after flagging him down on Jaffa St., the passengers began to issue a series of contradictory directions. "First they said they wanted to go to Givat Ze'ev, then Bet Haninah. Before I knew it, they had directed me to the outskirts of [Palestinian-controlled] Ramallah," Shimon said. "I told them that each change of direction would add to the fare, but one of them kept saying, 'Don't worry, we'll pay you.'" The atmosphere in the cab became more and more tense as the ride wore on. "After a while, I saw the leader of the group getting red-faced and angry... When I finally stopped the car, I saw them taking a lot of time fiddling with their wallets. So I said, 'What's the problem? Pay me now, and you can straighten out your accounts with each other later.' At that point, the leader shouted, "You want money? We'll slaughter you!' They then all took out knives and tear gas. One of them pressed his knife to my cheek, while another held his next to my throat. They told me to get out of the car, and I wrestled with them. This finally caused a disturbance and drew the attention of passersby. I threw myself over the hood of the taxi so they couldn't drive away with it. They got flustered, and one them rushed to the driver's seat, stepped on the gas, and dragged me - while I was slung over the car - for thirty meters or so. After I fell off, I saw them riding into the distance." They abandoned the car a bit further away. Shimon concluded, "They had no intention of robbing me. I had a money bag in the front seat, which they didn't touch. They simply wanted to kill me" - and here his voice broke.(Arutz 7 June 20)
More on Netanyahu's Golan Talks
The newest edition of the American weekly New Republic reveals more details on the secret negotiations held between the Netanyahu government and Syria regarding the Golan. Netanyahu reportedly agreed to withdraw Israeli forces up to the international border several meters east of the Kineret Sea - leaving a six-kilometer demilitarized zone - and even apparently ceded on Israel's demand to establish warning stations in the Golan. The magazine claims that objections by then-Defense Minister Yitzchak Mordechai and Foreign Minister Sharon prevented the signing of the agreement. Sharon said recently that it was he who had put a halt to Netanyahu's negotiations with the Syrians, in order to "prevent major territorial concessions." Netanyahu himself said recently that the talks with Syria were broken off because "Israel did not consent to Syria's territorial demands." On the other hand, the New Republic also writes that it is Syrian President Assad who is not interested in obtaining peace with Israel, as he fears that this will lead to his fall from power. Assad will continue to hold talks with Israel, but will always find a reason not to sign an agreement, writes the New Republic's Daniel Pipes. (Arutz 7 June 18)
Yoram Ettinger, of the Ariel Center For Policy Research, writes that the world must now back the cause of Lebanese independence from Syrian occupation just as it did regarding Kosovo. A recent ACPR symposium held on the matter featured Christian-Arab speakers calling for the same. Ettinger backs up his case with the following points:
Syria has brutally occupied Lebanon since December 1975, never recognizing Lebanon's sovereignty, never establishing a Syrian embassy there, and referring to Lebanon in its maps and schools as a Syrian province.
Syrian-orchestrated ethnic cleansing in Lebanon shifted to a more brutal gear in October 1990, destroying the remaining strongholds of Christian Lebanese resistance.
Syria has not been in compliance with its own commitment to withdraw from Lebanon, made at the 1989 Taif inter-Arab Summit. The call for the withdrawal of all non-Lebanese military forces was reaffirmed by UN Resolution 520.
Syria has established, harbored and supported in Lebanon the world's largest terrorist base.
Syria uses Lebanon for counterfeiting operations and heroine production and trafficking, thus bankrolling much of the Syrian-sponsored terror network. Some 20% of the heroine reaching U.S. inner-cities originates in Syrian-controlled (90% of) Lebanon. (Arutz 7 June 18)
Katif Ready for New Industry
The construction of 5,000 square meters of industrial buildings in the Gush Katif (Gaza Strip) town of N'vei Dekalim is nearing completion. The owners are in contact with companies from central Israel that have expressed interest in relocating their plants to the region. (Arutz 7 June 18)
Hareidi Pioneers in Army Come out Stronger
The first hareidi Nachal group of soldiers has finished its four-month basic training course, and high marks have been granted to the project. (Nachal is a framework combining combat military service with civilian service in a newly-founded agricultural settlement.) Although many of the soldiers' parents still prefer to remain anonymous, they are largely happy with what the army has done for their sons. Mrs. Arza Zoldan of Zikhron Yaakov, who was interviewed in Hatzofeh this week as the mother of new Pvt. Moshe Zoldan, said, "He always wanted to go to the army, but we objected. When we heard about this program, though, we knew it was for him... The army has made a man out of him." Dov Zoldan, the proud father and a wounded IDF vet, said, "This is the perfect solution for the negative light in which the hareidi public is seen, as if it attempts to evade the draft... Now he walks around again with his tzitzit [ritual fringes] outside." Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yehuda Duvdevani, "father" of the program, said that he dedicated himself to the project out of a sense that unity in the nation is the challenge of the hour: "We lost two Holy Temples because of brotherly hatred, and the ascent of anti-hareidi forces in the country is a severe problem... There must be dialogue... We want to help those hareidi boys who can't succeed in yeshiva - they will become the bridge between the hareidi public and the State, and they will thereby attain respect for their [hareidi] society and for themselves." He added that many of the boys came to the army "somewhat weak, from the standpoint of religious observance. But they recognized that they were pioneers, and they recognized the need to 'sanctify G-d's Name,' and this strengthened them religiously." (Arutz 7 June 18)
Israel Among Top Countries in Y2K Preparedness
Israel is among the 12 most prepared nations in the world for the Year 2000 bug, according to a report published on Tuesday at the second International Conference of Y2K Coordinators, Ha'aretz reported. World Bank experts divided the nations of the world into four groups, according to the expected rate of Y2K problems. Israel was grouped with the United States in the first group, nations whose rate of Y2K problems was estimated to be 15 percent. Most of the United Nation's member-nations sent representatives to discuss government, economic, and emergency services' readiness for the Y2K bug. Arab representatives to the UN conference were outraged to find the Israeli representatives grouped together with them in the Middle East and North African group. Israeli representatives who arrived for the final discussion on Monday found themselves waiting in an empty room for two-and-a-half hours while Arab representatives stood at the door and refused to go in until the Israelis left, thereby canceling the discussion. Ma'ariv reported that Israeli Ambassador to the UN Dore Gold expressed his disappointment with the Arab representatives' behavior. He said that instead breaking down barriers, the Arab missions are creating new ones. (IsraeLine June 23)
Going for Barak by Adam J. Levitin
The difference between Likud and Labor became not which would negotiate with the Palestinians, but which would get a better deal.
The Arab states might well come to rue the day Ehud Barak defeated Benjamin Netanyahu. Widely demonized in the inter- national media as the main obstacle to peace and Palestinian statehood, Netanyahu provided a convenient foil for Arab leaders hesitant to make serious concessions. His government was a return to familiar territory for the Arab leader- ship, a lightning rod for all kinds of domestic social tension and frustration that has little or nothing to do with the plight of the Palestinians or the exact dimensions of Israel.
Netanyahu did, however, commit the Likud and thus the bulk of the Israeli right to the peace process. The debate changed from a question of land for peace to how much land for peace. The difference between Likud and Labor became not which party would negotiate with the Palestinians, but rather which party would negotiate a better deal.
But by committing himself and the Likud to the peace process, Netanyahu ensured the disintegration of the Israeli right. Since the late 1970s, the right's identity had rested on three pillars: a rejection of the land-for- peace formula; Sephardic frustration with social inequality; and a rejection of Labor's socialist economic policy and patronage system. The Likud served as the main standard bearer of these points for the better part of the last two decades, uniting factions that were more interested in one of these points than the others. Netanyahu's acceptance of the land-for-peace formula removed a central, and perhaps the most important, pillar.
Meanwhile, Shas, the Sephardic religious party, siphoned away from the Likud its frustration at social and economic disparities. In spite of its electoral victories during the last two decades on the backs of the Sephardim, Likud has done relatively little to ease the country's social inequalities. Shas gives hope and pride to the thousands of poor Sephardic Israelis who have not reaped the fruits of the economic boom of the early 1990s, and for whom adjustment to the modern Western world has been difficult. Finally, Labor has shed many of its socialist economic and social policies, rendering the right's objections to these policies meaningless.
In spite of the collapse of these basic identity structures, the right's performance in the past election was not as severe a rout as it was made out to be in the Western media. Committed right-wing parties (Likud, the National Religious party, National Unity, Yisrael Beiteinu) control 32 of the Knesset's 120 seats, while another 40 are controlled by what are inadequately described as centrist parties of various stripes (Shas, Yisrael Ba'aliyah, the Center party, Shinui, United Torah Judaism), ranging from ultra- secular to ultra-orthodox, some containing former Likudniks and other members of Netanyahu's coalitions. That the right managed to do as well as it did, despite the collapse of its internal cohesion and identity, speaks to the depth of its sincere ideological and religious convictions and lasting mistrust of Labor. If it had had more effective leadership and a clearer political program, an unsplintered right might still be in control of the government.
The left too has lost much of its identity. As a result of Netanyahu's accession to the land-for- peace formula, Labor no longer has a monopoly on the position of peace party. Ehud Barak has, like Netanyahu, steered his party towards the political center. While Barak is no revisionist scion, neither is he cut from the same cloth as Shimon Peres, former vice-president of the Socialist International. A career military man (unlike Peres, a career Labor party politician) and hardly a dove, Barak seems to give allegiance to the Labor party more from his Ashkenazic kibbutz upbringing than from any particular ideological affinity. Indeed, it will be most interesting to see what role Barak gives his more ideological party comrades in his government.
Much has been made of the new prime minister's flirtations with Ariel Sharon, the current caretaker of Likud. This really should not be a surprise, since neither man is particularly ideological. Both come out of an Israeli military tradition. Barak did not rise to army chief of staff through ideological conformity, but rather through administrative excellence, leadership skills, and ambition. It should be remembered that Sharon, a respected and effective negotiator in Arab eyes, started out in politics in the Labor party.
Candidate Barak cast himself as a centrist. This appears to be not simply a political ploy, but rather a sincere sign of how he intends to govern, by trying to form a centrist coalition, possibly in a national unity government with Likud-a sign of the degree to which Likud and Labor have converged in the center of the Israeli political spectrum. Whether or not he succeeds in forming a wider, more centrist government coalition, or a narrower, left-leaning one, at least politically, Ehud Barak is essentially Netanyahu without the bad karma and divisive personality. Whereas Netanyahu entered office with saber rattling, he turned out to be a sheep in wolf's clothing. Barak might well be the wolf in sheep's clothing.
Barak could become a serious annoyance to Arab leadership and a reprieve for Israel after the public relations nightmare of the last government. As long as the newly elected prime minister cloaks himself in the mantle of Rabin, the martyr of peace, the Arab states will be hard pressed not to make goodwill gestures and accept reasonable proposals put forward by him. And unless he makes major mistakes, Barak will begin in a very strong negotiating position, holding the initiative. He can make essentially the same offers Netanyahu would, but because of a positive media image, these proposals will seem generous, whereas from Netanyahu they would seem grudging, stingy, and reluctant.
Which leads to the following questions: For all the hoopla about the Israeli election, one has to ask, How much does it matter? Can Israel's internal politics really have an effect on Israel's acceptance in the Middle East? Or does peace in the Middle East still fundamentally depend not on changes in Israeli politics, but on a sea change in the Arab world?
Adam J Levitin is a Mellon fellow in history at Columbia University.
(The Weekly Standard June 28)
By refusing to recognize Israel's right to west Jerusalem, Clinton is taking an anti-Israel position so extreme that even the Palestinians have not dared to take if officially.
President Bill Clinton once again postponed the US Embassy's move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem last week. According to a 1995 law passed by Congress, the embassy was supposed to have been moved this year. However, the law permits the president to move the deadline back indefinitely by issuing a waiver every six months. To issue such a waiver, the president must declare the postponement vital to America's "national security interests." In this case, the "national security interest" Clinton considered at stake was the future of the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
Since both sides have agreed that Jerusalem's fate will be determined during final-status talks, the White House explained, it would be inappropriate for America to do anything that would appear to favor one side's claim to the city over the other's. Moving the embassy to Jerusalem would irretrievably damage America's status as an "honest broker" in Palestinian eyes, Clinton said.
It would be impossible to argue with Clinton's logic, were it not for one tiny problem: the site of the new American embassy is not in disputed east Jerusalem, but in undisputed west Jerusalem.
Even the Palestinians have not officially demanded that west Jerusalem be placed on the negotiating table. The PLO, of course, claims that all of Israel is occupied Palestinian land, but it knows this is an untenable negotiating position. Its official demands, therefore, have been limited to the territories Israel conquered in 1967, combined with a "right of return" for Arabs from pre-1967 Israel. West Jerusalem, which has been Israel's since 1948, is not included in this claim. Nor has Israel ever agreed that any of its pre-1967 territories should be up for discussion.
Thus, by refusing to recognize Israel's right to west Jerusalem, Clinton is not serving as an "honest broker" Instead, he is taking an anti-Israel position so extreme that even the Palestinians have not dared to take it officially: that even pre-1967 Israel should be up for negotiation during the final-status talks.
The Palestinians, of course, have gleefully encouraged this position by declaring that yes, the US would forfeit all credibility in their eyes if the embassy were moved. For them, this is a godsend - the American president is making a claim on their behalf that they would not dare to make themselves. No one in the Clinton administration appears to have bothered asking how recognition of Israel's right to even the 1948 borders could constitute dishonest brokering.
If Clinton is serious about wanting to promote the peace process, his biased decision on the embassy is the worst possible move. For starters, by signaling that the US considers west Jerusalem to be on the table as well, Clinton significantly raises Palestinian expectations. Since no Israeli government could match these expectations, this makes a permanent agreement much less likely.
Even worse, however, Clinton's action reinforces all of Israel's worst fears about American mediation.
Though most Israelis have accepted the idea of territorial compromise, this acceptance is conditional on the belief that whatever deal is worked out will be final: that the Palestinians will not be back in another 10 or 20 years with yet more territorial demands, backed by threats of armed violence. A major component of this belief is the fact that the US is pledging itself as a guarantor of the agreement. If, however, the US cannot be relied on to fulfill this role - if it will instead turn around and pressure Israel to accede to new Palestinian demands in the future - even moderate Israelis might start thinking that giving up the West Bank and Gaza is a step on the road to dismemberment rather than peace.
By refusing to move the American Embassy to Jerusalem, Clinton is sending a loud and clear message that any Israeli concessions will indeed be met with pressure for more concessions. The Rabin government made an almost unthinkable concession when it agreed to put east Jerusalem on the negotiating table, in defiance of the virtually wall-to-wall consensus within Israel. Now, instead of rewarding Israel for that concession, the Clinton administration is trying to get west Jerusalem thrown into the pot as well.
It is, of course, hard to lay all the blame on Clinton. One cannot reasonably expect the American government to be more pro-Israel than the Israelis; and the Israeli government has acted like the lamest of lame ducks on this issue. It has not challenged the Palestinians to explain why west Jerusalem should suddenly be considered disputed territory, nor has it sent the US a strong message of the type the Palestinians have, warning it that it is forfeiting all credibility in Israeli eyes.
But Clinton should remember that winning a lame-duck government's complicity is not enough. Ultimately, the new government will have to sell its final-status agreement to the Israeli people. By undermining US credibility in Israelis' eyes, Clinton is making the Barak government's task - and achievement of his own stated goal - much harder. (Jerusalem Post June 22)
A Labor ministerial aspirant last night likened Ehud Barak to someone >taking us all on the strangest-ever roller-coaster ride. There are lots of ups and downs. There are many wild, unexpected twists and turns. But the movement is excruciatingly slow and there is no way of telling if the driver has a course plotted out or any idea which loop he will take next.
So after a ride with Shas for a few days, yesterday was the Likud's turn to be taken on board - again. Some sources say this time it's serious. But there was also optimism the first time Barak and Ariel Sharon rode together. Moreover, there were upbeat predictions each time Barak took his roller coaster in a new direction.
In other words, it's hard to know whether to put any trust in anything anyone says at this point. In fact, there were quite glaring discrepancies between leaks about understandings which Barak and Sharon are said to have reached and what members of the Likud negotiating team heard from their One Israel counterparts.
The one significant factor, however, is that throughout a day of contradictory reports, there was never a hint of a denial from Barak of anything attributed to Sharon. This was taken by some as meaning that Barak backed Sharon's version, because he did not dissociate himself from what was regarded as his take on the negotiations thus far.
On the other hand, frustrated central One Israel figures noted that what Barak has done most while he has been attempting to form his coalition is to say very little. At this point, no one is willing to see this as indicating a carefully conceived scheme in which silence is part of the plan to baffle the opposite side. The prevalent view in his party is that Barak is keeping mum, because he has nothing to say and because he is afraid to ruffle the feathers of potential coalition partners.
The fact is that all of Barak's alternative coalition combinations thus far fell through, because he couldn't find a single formula to which enough potential partners would agree. He does not have his narrow coalition, because the smaller religious parties refused to go in without either the Likud or Shas. He does not have a coalition with Shas because Meretz vetoed it. Moreover, Barak has a problem paying the stiff price in portfolios which Shas is demanding.
The Likud too is bargaining tough, though by now Barak has come around to realizing that one of the top portfolios will have to go to the Likud if he wants it in. He did not expect, however, so hostile a reception from Meretz. In fact, at first Meretz loudly proclaimed that it prefers the Likud to Shas as a coalition partner. Shas may be more convenient as far as the peace process is concerned, but the Likud is a mainstream, law-abiding party. By yesterday it emerged that Meretz not only has trouble with Shas, but also with the Likud. It will be satisfied neither with the rule of law or the peace process. Meretz, as Yossi Sarid made plain, simply wants a small tight coalition in which it is the key partner. The problem is that Barak is unable to form such a coalition. Sarid was right in noting that a coalition which includes the Likud and/or Shas, as well as the smaller religious lists, will not usher in the great change Barak has promised. However, the results of the Knesset vote may simply have not given Barak the mandate for the change which Meretz expects. For Barak, the Meretz sulk is no simple matter. It would at least be awkward for him to form a coalition with parties most of whose supporters voted against him, while a party like Meretz, whose voters backed Barak's candidacy to the hilt, would stay out.
In addition, Barak knows Sharon would not bring to the coalition the parliamentary support of the entire Likud Knesset contingent. The Likud was anarchic and undisciplined in its best days, and it is now experiencing its worst days. However, Barak heard from Sharon that he is in control for now and that he expects to be able to deliver the support of most of the Likud faction. If Barak can get that, it would be good enough from his perspective. The Likud's seal of approval on whatever future peace moves he makes could spare him much domestic discord. It could also dramatically lower Shas's price and bring it back into the coalition fold. In fact, one fear in the Likud is that Barak isn't really conducting any talks with it. He is just putting on an act to impress Shas to moderate its demands. This is discounted by One Israel sources, however, who insist that a whole "set of understandings," albeit unwritten ones, have been achieved between Barak and Sharon. This is no ploy of playing the Likud against Shas, they contend.
Beside, they note, this roller-coaster ride will have to come to its end pretty soon, and then we will all know. Barak has only two weeks left to form his government. (Jerusalem Post June 23)