Barak's Drubbing in Parliament Bodes Ill for Peace

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He may still be in charge, but Ehud Barak's no longer living large. And it now looks increasingly likely that Israel will hold another election before it pursues peace with the Palestinians. Although Barak managed to defeat a no-confidence motion that would have brought down his government Monday, an earlier vote for the ceremonial position of president resulted in a humiliating — and, perhaps, portentous — defeat for the Israeli leader. Barak's candidate, former prime minister Shimon Peres, was defeated 63-57 by Moshe Katsav, a little-known legislator from the right-wing Likud party. And those numbers are significant, since 61 votes is the magic number that brings down an Israeli government. Worse news may be in store for Barak Wednesday, then, when the Knesset votes on legislation compelling him to hold early elections.

Although President Clinton once again weighed in behind Barak on the eve of the vote with strong praise for the Israeli leader's negotiating stance and not-even-thinly veiled threats to the Palestinians of dire consequences should they declare a state in September, the Israeli leader partly has his U.S. counterpart to thank for his current predicament. The Camp David summit convened at Clinton's behest brought to a head the issues at the core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, prompting Barak to spell out an offer on Jerusalem that, while it wasn't enough for the Palestinians, was way too much for the Israeli leader's coalition partners, and even many of his own supporters. Indeed, before leaving for Camp David, Barak had done little to prepare Israelis for the notion of sharing any part of Jerusalem with the Palestinians, and even the very limited concessions he offered there have proven to be grist for the mill for his domestic opponents.

Rebuilding his coalition looks to have evaporated as an option for Barak, with the key parties he's been wooing insisting that his only choices are a national unity government with Likud, or facing the electorate. He may well manage to hold out until after the U.S. presidential election in November — helped, perhaps, by the fact that Arafat has signaled unofficially that he'll delay his state till after that event, too — but it's now looking unlikely that a momentous peace deal will be concluded before Israelis vote again. And if the Israeli Knesset is any indicator, it may become even less likely afterward.