Israel's Parliament Calls for New Elections

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The unstable coalition that brought Benjamin Netanyahu to power has crumbled after just 30 months. Monday the national government came apart amidst arguments about Netanyahu's handling of peace negotiations, and the Knesset took the first step toward early elections. It has to vote for new elections twice more before they can be called, but the move has such wide support it's almost a sure bet to pass.

When they do come off, Netanyahu will face a strong challenge from the Labor party, currently led by Ehud Barak, who is a consistent critic of what Labor calls Netanyahu's abandonment of the peace agreements set in place by Yitzhak Rabin. But there also may be a challenge from popular Lt. General Amnon Lipkin-Shahak. The early line is that Netanyahu will push for new elections just before May 4, the day Yasser Arafat says he will declare an independent Palestinian state. His gamble: that such an ominous deadline will give enough Israelis cold feet to create a majority for Netanyahu's hard line on negotiations.