View Full Version : Israel's Political Crisis Deepens

11-13-2005, 04:45 PM
Israel's political crisis deepens


By Jeffrey Heller Sun Nov 13, 9:11 AM ET

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel's march toward what appears to be an inevitable early election picked up speed on Sunday after new Labour Party leader Amir Peretz threatened to act quickly to bring down Ariel Sharon's government.

Peretz's call for Sharon to meet him immediately to discuss a date for a new national ballot, or face a Labour move in the coming week to end their political alliance, was rejected out of hand by a top aide to the prime minister.

The political upheaval following Peretz's surprise ousting of elder statesman Shimon Peres in a Labour party leadership vote is likely to put any resumption of violence-stalled peacemaking with the Palestinians even more firmly on hold.

"With all due respect to politics, nothing can be done before Thursday," Cabinet Secretary Yisrael Maimon, citing a busy diplomatic schedule for Sharon, said about Peretz's demand on Saturday to meet the Israeli leader earlier.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, due to arrive later in the day, was one of several foreign dignitaries Sharon was to meet on the sidelines of ceremonies marking the 10th anniversary of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's assassination.

A senior State Department official said a "political bargaining period" in Israel could make it harder for the United States to push a peace agenda.

"What we don't want here is to be kept in a holding pattern (because of domestic politics)," the official said.

Rice was scheduled to hold separate talks with Sharon and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Monday on ways to build on the troop and settler pullout Israel completed in the Gaza Strip in September.

Before leaving Saudi Arabia, Rice said resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was a top priority and urged both sides to follow a U.S.-sponsored peace "road map" for a Palestinian state alongside a secure Israel.

"We impress upon both parties to live up to their obligations (under the road map)," Rice said.

Hopes of a return to talks on the "road map" after Israel's Gaza pullout remain unfulfilled.

Peretz, in a television interview, said Labour "may act to topple the government on Wednesday" in the absence of a meeting with the prime minister before then.

The opposition National Religious Party is to present for preliminary approval in the Israeli legislature on Wednesday a bill calling for the dissolution of parliament.

Labour's support is needed to send the bill to committee and then to the full plenum for passage in three separate votes that would set the ball rolling toward an election as early as February.

In any case, Peretz has said he will propose to Sharon an election in March or in May, advancing a vote not due until November 2006.

A pledge to leave Sharon's government over what Peretz has called its neglect of Israel's poor was a centerpiece of the 53-year-old trade union leader's campaign to replace Peres, 82.

Palestinians are also in political flux, preparing for a parliamentary election in January that will mark the first time the militant Hamas group, dedicated to Israel's destruction, will take part in a legislative poll.