Barak,s Triumph: Chance to honour Wye Agreement

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The Independent Online
"IS BARAK going to use his massive victory to make massive progress towards peace?" asks Ghassan Khatib, a Palestinian commentator. "He could use his momentum to move fast or he could play a waiting game."

Palestinians do not know Mr Barak well. He played no immediate role in suppressing the intifada (uprising) against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza after 1987. They look to the composition of his government as the first strong hint of the direction he intends to go.

If the new cabinet is strongly centre-left then Mr Barak can implement unfulfilled stages of the Oslo accords at speed. If he includes in his government parties from the nationalist right, committed to giving as little as possible to the Palestinians, then it will move more slowly.

Another sign of where Mr Barak's intentions towards them would be the immediate implementation of the WyeAgreement of last October. This was signed by Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister, passed by the Knesset, but never implemented.

Under Wye, Israel should continue a partial withdrawal from the West Bank, open a corridor between Gaza and the West Bank and release Palestinian prisoners. Mr Netanyahu refused to do so.

In theory Mr Barak will continue where Yitzhak Rabin, the prime minister assassinated in 1995, left off. He will separate Israelis and Palestinians.

His chances of doing this should be greater than Mr Rabin's. For the first time there is a purely Jewish majority in the Knesset, not dependent on the votes of Israeli-Arab members for a territorial compromise and withdrawal from the West Bank.