Labour left in Israel raises its head again

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The Independent Online
IT IS hard to tell when Avraham Burg is being serious. Standing outside his hill-top home in Nataf, close to Jerusalem, he traced the path of the old green line running along the other side of the valley. 'That's where the Palestinian state will be. I guess we'll be neighbours,' he said.

Mr Burg, 37, an ex-paratrooper, is the new face of the Israeli left. The son of Yosef Burg, the former National Religious Party leader, Mr Burg veered from his father's political path during the Lebanon war. He joined the protest movement and built his reputation on a campaign to end the religious parties' political power.

Since last week's Labour victory, his voice and those of others like him in the Labour party are being listened to seriously for the first time. This week, Mr Burg claimed a victory for the left in the appointment of a foreign minister: he predicted a comeback for Shimon Peres.

Yitzhak Rabin succeeded his rival Mr Peres as the Labour leader in March when the party decided it needed a hawk, not a dove, to lead it into the election. But Mr Peres, who nurtured Mr Burg, remains popular on the party's left.

From Mr Burg's vantage point in the fresh , clean atmosphere of Nataf, Israel's future seems easy to plan. In the thicker atmosphere of Jerusalem, the process of forming a government, under way all week as the small parties jostle for power in Mr Rabin's coalition, is dismissed by Mr Burg as 'chairology'.

Mr Rabin is expected to form a government by 13 July. 'Once everyone knows which ministerial chair they are getting they will agree on everything else,' said Mr Burg.

Even the question of how far to freeze settlements will be agreed, he said. This week it looked as if Mr Rabin had watered down his commitment to curb building in the occupied territories, under pressure from right-wing and religious coalition partners. Mr Burg says that whatever its public utterances, Labour will halt all 'provocative' settlements. 'We will not create any obstacles in the negotiations,' he said. Mr Burg believes Mr Rabin is serious about setting set up continuous peace talks in Rome. 'It's logistically possible,' he said. 'We have invented the fax since Yalta.'

The daily Ha'aretz reported that Yitzhak Shamir headed a special unit involved in assassinations during his years in Israel's Mossad secret service from 1955 to 1964, AP reports.