Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

5 Adar 5761 - February 28, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Labor Votes to Join Coalition
by Yated Ne'eman Staff

Leaders of the Labor Party have followed the zig-zagging example of their former prime minister, Ehud Barak, and despite warnings that they were selling their souls for a scrap of power, in a stormy and at times near-violent session on Monday night the Labor Party Central Committee agreed to join a unity government led by Likud's Ariel Sharon. The Committee will select its ministers on Thursday.

This decision has given Prime Minister-elect Ariel Sharon the chance to form a broad coalition and possibly secure a respite from the political instability that has afflicted most recent governments.

The coalition agreement, cited billed by unity partisans as proof that Labor had already softened Sharon's hard line, includes a promise that the new government will not abandon the goal of trading land for a final peace with the Palestinians.

Conditions of the coalition will force the new government to abide by any agreements with Israel's Arab neighbors and the Palestinians that were approved by Knesset. Thus, the 1993 Oslo accord recognizing the principle of land for peace would be honored, but not Barak's offers of territorial concessions.

The agreement also enshrines Sharon's campaign promise to put aside the painful decisions of a final settlement and concentrate on further interim accords.

By a 505-243 vote, which was regarded as a resounding victory for former prime minister Shimon Peres, but in which only half the central committee members participated, Labor approved an agreement negotiated with the Likud to join the coalition and receive eight ministries and three deputy- minister posts.

Labor will receive the Foreign Affairs, Defense, Industry and Trade, Transportation, and Science, Culture, and Sports portfolios, plus two ministries without portfolio.

Labor's approval frees the Likud to begin negotiating with its other coalition partners. The Likud had promised that it would keep the Finance, Education, and Justice portfolios for itself. It is likely to also want the Internal Security and Interior portfolios, leaving few portfolios for Shas, the National Religious Party, Yisrael Ba'aliya, Yisrael Beiteinu-National Union, and United Torah Judaism to fight over.

The Labor appeals committee decided earlier in the day that Peres could not be approved as interim party leader by the meeting because the issue had not been placed on the agenda.

Labor leaders who support and oppose entering the government took turns speaking in a raucous session, and were booed and heckled in turn by their detractors in the crowd.

Shlomo Ben-Ami said joining Sharon's government "nauseated" him, and although he did not name Peres directly, he pointedly claimed that "you, who would lead the government into this coalition, will turn the party into one that supports the status quo instead of change ... you are accelerating the clinical death of this party."

There has been little love lost between Ben-Ami and Peres for a long time and Peres rose to the bait, fighting back with a speech that mocked Ben-Ami for "almost" completing an agreement with Palestinians at Taba.

"There's a big difference between completing an agreement and almost completing one," he mocked.

"The time has come to listen to the people," Peres said, at times his voice rising in ringing flights of anger that he later said were "techniques of speech making," not personal fury. But this was clearly the old Peres in top form, winning resounding chants of "Shimon, Shimon" from the central committee stalwarts.

Reading to the crowd from the text of the national-unity agreement, Peres singled out the Likud's commitment not to build new settlements and to make "painful concessions" in the pursuit of peace. Sharon made more ideological compromises to form a coalition than Labor, he added, and the agreement is far from what one would expect from a "far right" government.

The most controversial of all speakers was undoubtedly Chaim Ramon, whose appearance on the podium immediately began a wave of protests from the audience that included chants of "traitor, traitor" for his open attacks on Barak.

But Ramon seemed energized by the opposition mocking the efforts to silence him and rhetorically asked them "which amuta (non-profit organization) do you belong to?" in reference to a police investigation of Barak's 1999 campaign finances.

Ramon spoke in favor of national unity -- "but to eliminate all claims that I am doing it for my seat, for my interest, I hereby declare that I will not serve in such a government as a minister, but will do all in my power to make sure we join the government."

For years, Ramon and Knesset Speaker Avraham Burg had been allies, usually sitting together at party sessions. On Monday they were far apart as each prepares to make a run for the party leadership and they found themselves on opposite sides of the unity fence.

Burg, and Yossi Beilin, too, spoke passionately against joining the national unity government. Burg reminded the party that "only when Likud is on its own and has to face reality -- at the first Camp David, at Madrid, at Wye -- does it take any step forward on peace. When they have us on the inside, they don't move forward. We can support their moves for peace from outside the government."


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