And speaking of a lovefest, Barak and Syrian president Hafez Assad exchanged pleasantries Thursday in the pages of a London-based Arabic newspaper, Al Hayat. Setting the stage for a resumption of peace talks, Assad called his Israeli counterpart a "strong and honest" leader who could deliver, while Barak said Syria was the cornerstone of Mideast peace in companion interviews. But for now, the Israeli leader’s priority is forming a government by July 9. "Barak insists that he’s not forming a national unity government or compromising his policies," says TIME Jerusalem bureau chief Lisa Beyer. "He says he’s forming a government on the basis of other parties' accepting his guidelines, and within those he wants it to be as broad as possible." In fact, Barak’s only limit may be logistical rather than ideological -– if he casts the net too wide he won’t have enough ministries to offer as political bait.
No matter whom you vote for, the government always gets elected. That old anarchist adage may yet prove true in Israel, where prime minister-elect Ehud Barak is looking to bring the key elements from the previous government -- including Benjamin Netanyahu’s own Likud party (now that Bibi has quit) -– into a broad-based coalition. It's not a total lovefest -- his own secularist base has protested loudly at overtures to the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, and the doves are squawking at the prospect of bringing in Likud -- but Barak assured them Wednesday that he wouldn’t compromise on his promise to jump-start the peace process stalled by Netanyahu.