Barak faces 'nail-biter' motion of no confidence

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak today faces several "no confidence" votes in parliament which could see his minority government swept away by right-wing anger over his handling of peace negotiations with Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader.

The Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak today faces several "no confidence" votes in parliament which could see his minority government swept away by right-wing anger over his handling of peace negotiations with Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader.

The premier's opponents - who accuse him of being willing to make too many "concessions" to the Palestinians - need to muster 61 votes in the 120-member Knesset to bring down his battered government. Israeli analysts said that the opposition, led by Likud, yesterday had mustered about 56 votes, and that Mr Barak's fate could be decided yet again by ultra-Orthodox rabbis - this time the five-strong United Torah Judaism Party.

If Mr Barak loses the vote, then it will mean an election in October which could see the prize hawk Benjamin Netanyahu return to Israel's political battlefield as the right wing's candidate. His ratings have been improving in recent months, even though he is embroiled in an unresolved corruption allegation. If he won, the chances of a final status agreement with the Palestinians would shrivel.

This prospect appears to have occurred to US President Bill Clinton who has been desperately trying to bolster Mr Barak's support. This has involved appearing on Israel TV on Friday to blame Mr Arafat for the outcome of the 15-day summit, and to threaten US reprisals if the Palestinian leader unilaterally declares a state in September.

If he loses, Mr Barak and the United States may seek to pressure Mr Arafat into accepting a peace deal, with the aim of turning the Israeli elections into a referendum on its contents. But, though low level talks between the two sides resumed yesterday, gaps still yawn - notably over Jerusalem and its Old City.

The odds on the eve of the votes seemed narrowly in favour of Mr Barak's survival, but his aides admitted concern and opposition representatives claimed their chances of ousting him have never be so good.

As ever in the venal world of Israeli politics, much could depend on last minute horse-trading in the Knesset. This is an art at which Mr Barak, an army general at heart, does not excel; he understands polls, and spin, and slick and costly PR campaigns, but he has yet to learn how to handle Israel's permanently obstreperous parliament. His chances improved slightly yesterday when his Foreign Minister David Levy, who boycotted the Camp David summit, did not resign, as some expected.

Instead he threatened to quit later this week unless the premier made "an effort" to sign up right-wingers, creating a government of national unity.

This idea has been floating around for days, although it seems improbable, not least because the leader of Likud, Ariel Sharon, has said he would not join such a government.

It will also be a relief to Mr Barak that Mr Levy, the head of a tiny secular Sephardic party, declared he would abstain in today's vote. All the same, it could be a nail-biter. "It is very close," said Professor Ephraim Inbar, a political analyst at Bar-Ilan University. "My gut feeling is that the government has the resources to buy off the ultra-Orthodox, but I wouldn't be surprised if he fell."

Just before setting off for the Camp David marathon last month, Mr Barak survived a no confidence motion, although ingloriously: he received fewer votes than his opponents, but they failed to get 61 votes. Since then his minority government - down to only 12 of 23 ministers - has been gasping for life.

The loss last month of three right-wing and religious parties - including his largest partner, Shas - caused his support to shrivel to about a third of the Knesset. Survival today would give him a reprieve. This week the parliament goes into recess until 29 October and it cannot vote to bring him down while it is not in session.

Yet again the fate of a government appears to rest in the hands of Israel's widely resented but powerful ultra-Orthodox, plus a handful of dissenters.

Comments