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Barak and Sharon defend their positions in Knesset
By NAOMI SEGAL
Jewish Telegraphic Agency
October 30, 2000
JERUSALEMAppeals for national unity continue to be
sounded here, but judging from
the opening session of the Knesset, Israeli leaders are not prepared to take
the steps required to achieve it.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak appeared before the Knesset on Monday
having only a minority of
legislators behind him.
Monday's session came amid continued unrest, which claimed the lives of
two Israelis in the Jerusalem
But he was in no imminent danger of facing a vote of no confidence in
his government when the legislators
returned from a three-month recess.
Barak, whose government lost its parliamentary majority when three
parties walked out during the summer
to protest July's Camp David summit, got some breathing space from the
fervently Orthodox Shas Party, which
promised him a ``safety net" as long as the violence in the West Bank and
Gaza Strip continues.
But Shas members, who hold 17 seats in the 120-member Knesset, said they
would only back Barak if he
abandons his ``secular revolution" reform program and keeps the secular
Meretz and Shinui parties out of his
While Barak called on Israelis to stand ``shoulder to shoulder," notably
absent from his address Monday
was any overt reference to a unity government.
This was taken as a sign of the deadlock in the efforts to forge such a
government with opposition leader
Ariel Sharon. The politically weakened Barak staunchly defended his election
pledge to ``turn over every stone" in
pursuit of peace, which he said culminated in the Camp David summit.
But at the same time, he said there were limits to that pursuit.
``Over the past 16 months, and especially at Camp David, we were
prepared to discuss far-reaching ideas
raised by the president of the U.S., on condition the other side would
consider it a basis for discussion.
``We understood peace, if achieved, would carry a painful and
heartbreaking price, but we never agreed to
peace at any price, a peace of capitulation or surrender to the demands of
the other side," Barak said. ``The
Palestinians are the ones who rejected our extended hand."
Barak went on to say that Israel remains committed to the understandings
brokered by President Clinton to
try to reach a cease-fire during a summit at Sharm el-Sheik, Egypt, in
If the Palestinians implement the understandings, and if Clinton summons
the sides to Washington, ``our
security and political responsibility obliges us to go," Barak told
Barak's acting foreign minister, Shlomo Ben-Ami, was slated to visit
Washington later this week, when he
was expected to meet with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to
discuss the ongoing violence that has all
but killed the peace process.
The hawkish Sharon has demanded that Barak disavow the proposals
discussed at Camp David as a
condition for creating an emergency unity government.
During his address to the Knesset, Sharon devoted almost all of his
remarks to the need for a unity
government, but not one based on Barak's policies.
``If you had not chosen the path you did, you would not have led us into
this trap," Sharon said. ``I support
an emergency national unity government. But I am not ready to support the
division of Jerusalem, giving up the
Jordan Valley and the return of [Palestinian] refugees to Israel.
``We must unite around a realistic plan that can really restore quiet,
bring security to the people of Israel,
and down the line, the peace we all want," he said.
Sharon said the urgency of the moment requires immediate action, and
that the opposition is ready to join
the government on one condition: that the sides agree what Israel's response
would be to a unilateral declaration of
a Palestinian state.
Sharon was heckled by Hadash legislator Tamar Gozansky, who shouted
``you don't want unity, you want
a veto" over Barak's policies.
Meanwhile, a security guard was killed and another one seriously wounded
when they were shot at close
range inside a branch of the National Insurance Institute in eastern
In a separate incident, Palestinian police handed over the body of an
Israeli found in an Arab area on the
outskirts of Jerusalem. Israeli police said Monday the body was bound and had
multiple stab wounds.
They said the victim, who was in his 30s, was believed to a resident of
Jerusalem's Gilo neighborhood.
Israeli security officials have warned Israeli Jews to stay away from
the Palestinian self-rule areas.
The Knesset reopened as the violence in the West Bank and Gaza entered
its second month with a fury that
shows no signs of abating.
During his address, Barak vowed to ``do everything to defend our
citizens and soldiers, and hurt those who
want us dead."
Israeli Arab legislators repeatedly interrupted the premier's speech,
angry that Knesset Speaker Avraham
Burg had turned down their request to have the session begin with a minute of
silence for 13 Arab Israelis killed by
police in recent rioting.
One Shas legislator asked why there were Arabs were serving in the
Israeli parliament at all. Burg opened
the session by reading a statement expressing condolences for all who had
lost their lives in the violence.
For his part, Barak condemned all violence by Jews against Arabs and
Arabs against Jews. His speech
came one day after Arafat proclaimed that the ``blessed" intifada, or
Palestinian uprising, would continue until a
``Palestinian child plants a Palestinian flag" on Jerusalem.
Barak warned Arafat on Monday that the window of opportunity for peace
is closing and that he will get
nowhere with violence.
``Negotiations are conducted around the table," said
Barak. ``Not in the streets. Not with
gunfire and rocks. There will be no prize for violence.''
© JTA Inc., 2000. May not be reproduced
without written permission.