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Barak and Sharon at odds on coalition government

  WEB EXCLUSIVE
reporter On the scene with
Mike Hanna in Jerusalem

Palestinians say coalition would kill peace process

CNN Jerusalem Bureau Chief Mike Hanna, CNN Cairo Bureau Chief Ben Wedeman, CNN Beirut Bureau Chief Brent Sadler, CNN White House Correspondent Kelly Wallace, and CNN Correspondents Jerrold Kessel, Fionnuala Sweeney and Rula Amin contributed to this report.

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and right-wing opposition Likud Party leader Ariel Sharon today failed to reach an agreement about forming a coalition government designed to keep Barak in power.

The two men met as Israeli-Palestinian clashes continued in Gaza and the West Bank. Two Palestinian teen-agers who were injured in fighting last week died Monday. So far at least 135 people have died in three and a half weeks of violence, all but nine of them Palestinians or Israeli Arabs.

Sharon said the blueprint that Barak presented for a so-called unity government was "unacceptable," and they were expected to try again Tuesday.

 VIDEO
CNN's Jerrold Kessel reports on Barak's options (October 23)

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CNN's Richard Blystone reports on Arafat's choices (October 23)

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CNN's Mike Hanna updates the situation in Israel and on the West Bank (October 23)

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CNN's Jonathan Mann talks with Howard Sachar and Nur Masalha about the Mideast peace process (October 23)

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  MESSAGE BOARD
Mideast peace
 
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The proposed unity government has prompted some members of Barak's Cabinet to threaten to resign.

Barak, who lost his parliamentary majority in July on the eve of the failed U.S.-hosted Israeli-Palestinian summit in Camp David, Maryland, has urged Sharon to join him in a national emergency government to deal with the wave of violence that has swept Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.

Barak has only 30 seats in the 120-member Israeli Parliament, which convenes again at the end of October. Although forming a unity government would allow Barak to remain in power, it would also create questions about when Israel would be willing to resume Palestinian peace talks and under what terms.

"Bringing in the Likud has two elements," Israeli Parliament Member Dan Meridor told CNN. "One, we are under attack. When we are under attack, we should unite. Second, bringing in the Likud is bringing in the party that made peace with Egypt, and bringing in Mr. Sharon, who negotiated with the Palestinians on the Wye (River) agreement and the Hebron agreement."

Saeb Erakat, chief Palestinian negotiator, saw it differently.

Sharon has stated publicly that he is against giving Palestinians any form of sovereignty over any part of Jerusalem, which both sides claim as their traditional capital.

In addition, he has also stated his opposition to removal of Jewish settlements in the Palestinian-controlled areas of the West Bank and Gaza. Sharon favors demilitarization of those areas, but he opposes allowing the return of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees currently living in camps in Lebanon and Jordan.

"I think once Sharon joins the government this will be the bullet of mercy to the peace process," Erakat told CNN. "Because ... these people are determined to continue with their settlement activities ... the confiscation of land and continuing occupation."

Some of Barak's Cabinet also had doubts about including Sharon in the government

Israeli Cabinet Minister Yossi Beilin told CNN, "I think Prime Minister Barak did so much in order to get to peace and was ready to pay a very high price for peace. It might be erased if Ariel Sharon joined the government and be seen as somebody who is not enthusiastic about the peace process.

"I hope that such a government with the Likud will not be established and that there might be another coalition in the same Knesset that we have today. It is a very difficult political situation which I cannot dismiss, but I am still optimistic about the possibility of another coalition in this same Knesset."

"I don't believe there are many members of the Labor Party who are too happy about this situation," Beilin said. "They see it mainly as a kind of a fallback and they still believe, as I do believe, that the peace process is not over and that there is a hope for peace in the Middle East."

Meanwhile, Israel closed the Palestinian-operated airport in Gaza for most of Monday. The Israelis had said that Palestinian officials were not following security procedures, but those issues were later resolved.

The airport -- considered by Palestinians as a symbol of possible independence -- had been reopened as a result of a failed Israeli-Palestinian truce agreement reached at an emergency summit last week in Egypt.

Also reported in Gaza today were sporadic clashes between Israeli soldiers and Palestinians. Other Israeli-Palestinian clashes were reported in the West Bank in Bethlehem and near Hebron, where at least six Palestinians were injured.

Separately, an explosion was reported Monday along the road as a convoy of Jewish settlers from Netzarim, a settlement in Gaza, was leaving the area. There were no injuries and the convoy continued.

After dark, Israeli Defense Forces in predominantly Jewish Gilo, on the outskirts of Jerusalem, exchanged machine gun fire with unidentified gunmen in the adjoining, predominantly Arab, Beit Jala neighborhood.



RELATED STORIES:
More Middle East killings as Arab nations confer on crisis
October 21, 2000
Israel considers 'timeout' as Mideast clashes intensify
October 20, 2000
Israelis, Palestinians trade charges at U.N. session
October 18, 2000
Mideast violence continues, cease-fire denounced
October 18, 2000
Clashes in West Bank, Gaza blaze on despite agreement
October 17, 2000

RELATED SITES:
United Nations
Israel Defense Forces
Addameer: Palestinian Human Rights Association
  • Clashes Information Center
Palestinian State Information Service
Live Western Wall Camera at Aish
Palestinian National Authority Home Page
The Israeli Government's Official Web site
About the West Bank
Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees
U.S. State Department

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