Barak buys time despite a hostile Knesset

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Israel's enfeebled and unpopular prime minister, Ehud Barak, yesterday appeared before a hostile Knesset for the first time in three months and survived only because none of his many enemies can afford to bring him down at a time of national crisis.

Israel's enfeebled and unpopular prime minister, Ehud Barak, yesterday appeared before a hostile Knesset for the first time in three months and survived only because none of his many enemies can afford to bring him down at a time of national crisis.

Barak was interrupted a dozen times by loud heckling during his 30-minute opening speech to the winter session of parliament, but managed to repeat what has become his mantra - that he has not abandoned hope of peace, but that violence will get the Palestinians nowhere.

He went into the session without having built a new majority, but knowing that he was in no danger of being toppled, not least because the ultraOrthodox Shas party - which has 17 crucial seats - said it would support him for the next month. Ariel Sharon, the leader of the Likud party, who is regarded by the Arab world as a war criminal, said he had not given up on the possibility of joining an emergency government; negotiations so far have been inconclusive.

Mr Barak was heckled by both ends of the political spectrum. There was abuse from Arab parliamentarians, infuriated by the killing of 13 Israeli Arabs, most by the police during riots. And there was abuse from the right wing, which blames Mr Barak for starting the violence by offering to give back too much occupied territory to the Palestinians at the Camp David summit in July.

"You will find us united against violence," said Mr Barak, after the shouting subsided. "Negotiations are conducted around a table, not in the streets and not with shooting and stones. There will be no prize for violence."

The Palestinians reject the claim that they are to blame for the violence, citing the fact that most of the victims - more than 140 now - are rioters shot by the Israeli army.

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