- The Washington Times - Monday, February 19, 2001

JERUSALEM A rebellion in Ehud Barak's Labor Party snowballed yesterday as some of his closest allies joined in demands he abandon his intention to serve as defense minister under Prime Minister-elect Ariel Sharon.

Mr. Sharon depicted in Mr. Barak's failed re-election campaign as a reckless extremist reached a tentative deal with Mr. Barak last week to establish a broad-based "unity government" that would also include Labor's elder statesman Shimon Peres as foreign minister.

Yesterday, opposition to the move grew to encompass even Mr. Barak's closest allies.

"Sharon is asking Barak and Peres to provide cover and act as a fig leaf for him, and this is very dangerous for [Labor]," said Immigration Minister Yuli Tamir, who tirelessly defended Mr. Barak during his tumultuous last months in power.

Israeli newspapers reported that several major Labor leaders met over the weekend and planned to unite against Mr. Barak at a party convention planned for tomorrow.

The group included Haim Ramon, a bitter rival for the party leadership, as well as close allies like Shlomo Ben-Ami, the outgoing foreign minister who worked closely with Mr. Barak in their failed effort to forge a peace agreement with the Palestinians.

At the convention, Mr. Barak is expected to present a list of seven proposed Cabinet ministers from the party, but there were reports that Mr. Ramon intended to present an alternative list that does not include Mr. Barak, who remains party chairman.

"It's a world war" in the Labor Party, said political analyst Hanan Crystal. "Labor is like a group of gangs now … shooting each other in the back."

Mr. Barak devoted most of his 20-month term to failed efforts to achieve peace.

He offered Syria almost all of the Golan Heights, which Israel occupied in 1967 and later annexed, but talks collapsed over a small slice of land.

He offered the Palestinians a state in most of the West Bank and Gaza and a share of Jerusalem but those efforts collapsed, too, and five months of violence have killed 404 persons, mostly Palestinians.

Under the plan reached with Mr. Sharon, the national unity government would pursue a new interim deal with the Palestinians, rather than a final peace plan.

Mr. Barak now argues that without a unity government, the hawkish Mr. Sharon would find his required majority in the 120-member Knesset among conservative and religious parties opposed to any concessions, deepening the conflict with the Palestinians and perhaps even drawing in other Arab states.

While this theory has considerable sway in the party, there remains strong opposition to Mr. Barak staying on as defense minister after losing the Feb. 6 election to Mr. Sharon by an unprecedented 25-point margin.

Mr. Barak also has drawn heaps of ridicule and condemnation for reversing his announcement the night of his defeat that he would step down as Labor leader and leave politics for a while.

"All his friends, the most loyal ones, are abandoning him, and he should draw the necessary conclusions," said Aliza Goren, a former aide to Mr. Barak who also advised predecessors Mr. Peres and Yitzhak Rabin.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide