Bomb overshadows Sharon unity bid
The meeting, scheduled for Friday, comes less than 24 hours after a car bomb exploded in a west Jerusalem and as Barak admitted his peace plans did not apply to his successor.
Peace with the Palestinians and escalating violence were key issues in the prime ministerial elections which resulted in a landslide win for Sharon.
He has promised peace talks will not take place until Palestinian end the violence against Israelis.
The U.S. State Department has also acknowledged proposals for a Mideast peace put forward by ex-President Bill Clinton will not be picked up by the new administration.
Sharon said Thursday after the car bombing in east Jerusalem: "The government I will lead will make every effort to reach peace, but the condition for starting peace talks is the cessation of terror and violence."
Barak and former Prime Minister Shimon Peres, also a former Nobel Prize laureate, are to head the Labor Party delegation in the meetings with Sharon.
Two people were injured, neither seriously, when the car bomb exploded on a side street between a pair of ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods in west Jerusalem, Israeli police said.
The massive blast, between the Jewish neighborhoods of Mea Shearim and Beit Shmuel, caused little damage, however, except to cars parked near the one that exploded.
Several other bystanders were treated for shock, police said.
Residents of Mea Shearim, many wearing traditional black Orthodox garb, poured into the streets around the bomb site in protest. Several demonstrators carried posters calling for "Death to Arabs."
Peace process sabotage
Barak said the bombing "sabotaged the peace process" and that Israel should "do everything we can to stop the terrorism and to hurt the people that hurt us and to work to change this reality from its route."
But Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, founder and leader of the Islamic fundamentalist group Hamas, said the violence was the Israelis' responsibility.
"This is part of the bloodshed cycle that Israel has imposed upon us by occupying the Palestinian land and killing Palestinians," he said. "Israel must end the occupation in order to end the cycle of violence. ... This is a natural response from an oppressed people."
Voter dissatisfaction with Barak's handling of the Palestinian crisis cost him Tuesday's election and handed Sharon the job of finding a solution to more than five decades of conflict between the Palestinians and Israelis.
The past four months, after a trilateral summit at Camp David, Maryland, dissolved last summer with no agreement, have been marked with near-daily clashes between Israelis and Palestinians -- and have seen more than 400 people, most of them Palestinians, killed.
Negotiations stirred again as the Israeli election neared, prompted by Barak's resignation in December, but ended days before the vote without an agreement.
Sharon won't pick up where Barak left off
Sharon, who campaigned on a pledge to reach a peace deal with the Palestinians that mandated Israel's security, has rejected Palestinian calls to resume negotiations where they left off.
Zalman Shoval, the former Israeli ambassador to the United States, told CNN that he doesn't blame the Palestinians for wanting to pick up where Barak left off, but that it wouldn't happen that way.
"Now they want to say, 'What the previous administration put on the table, OK, we take that and let's start and have further demands and have further concessions from Israel,'" said Shoval. "That's not the way to do business."
Shoval is one of three Sharon aides who are to travel to Washington this weekend for consultations with the U.S. government. He will be joined by another former Israeli ambassador to the United States, Dore Gold, and former Defense Minister Moshe Arens.
Gold said the new government would not be bound by negotiations at Camp David, the recent talks at Taba, Egypt, or in the peace proposals made by former U.S. President Bill Clinton.
Meanwhile, the new U.S. president, George W. Bush, telephoned Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, reiterating to the Arab leader the U.S. "support for a just and lasting peace both for the Israelis and the Palestinians, " according to National Security Council spokeswoman Mary Ellen Countryman.
Countryman said Bush also urged Arafat "to make every effort to help stop the violence and calm the situation" in the region.
New leader races deadline to form government
Sharon, 72, has 45 days from February 13 -- when Tuesday's election is certified -- to form a government acceptable to Israel's Knesset, which is itself a very fractured legislative body.
A deal with Labor would allow the Likud leader to jump his first political hurdle by avoiding having to strike deals with extreme right-wing and religious groups as he rushes to meet the deadline to form a new government and pass the state budget -- or face new elections for both prime minister and parliament.
New elections had been the Knesset's intent before Barak's surprise resignation on December 10.
Some Labor Party leaders have expressed interest in forming a coalition with Likud, while others have said Likud's ideas are too far afield for any agreement.
Labor's split over cooperation with Sharon was underscored by a lack of leadership as well.
Barak resigned as party chairman -- and gave up his seat in the Knesset -- after losing the election. He remains as caretaker prime minister until Sharon forms his government.
CNN Jerusalem Bureau Chief Mike Hanna and News Editor Randall H. Harber contributed to this report.
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