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Jerrold Kessel: Israel inching toward unity

Jerrold Kessel  

CNN Correspondent Jerrold Kessel has been monitoring the complex political transition of Israeli leadership from the Labor Party to the Likud party and its impact on the Mideast peace process.

On Monday both parties made significant progress toward a national unity government by reaching a tentative agreement on a strategy of Mideast peace talks with the Palestinians.

Q: Is this a sign that both sides will form a coalition government under Likud leader and Prime Minister-elect Ariel Sharon?

KESSEL: I would say it goes a long way toward the possibility of a unity government coming into existence. But it's not 100 percent because they still have to work out other non-related platforms such as questions of religion. It's not guaranteed that Labor will endorse this 100 percent. It's likely yes, but there may be a number of Labor members of the Knesset, or parliament, who balk at the proposed agreement because outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Barak would be the final Labor Party leader to sign off on the final version.

Barak has resumed leadership, even though he said he would resign as party leader last week after losing the election. He's really at the helm of the negotiations and that's why no one is really sure if he's got the whole party behind him. He probably does, but Labor is in something of a turmoil at the moment so it's not a clear-cut deal from that point of view.

Q: What kind of signals are you hearing from both parties about the tone of Israel's future dealings with the Palestinians?

KESSEL: They talk about the need for "painful concessions" on both sides: the Israelis and the Palestinians.

The way it's shaped out, it will be very surprising if the Palestinians don't react by saying, "This has got nothing to do with us." I'll be very surprised if they go to another position on this. They are insisting that any peace talks must start off where they left off when they were suspended just before the election. And this tentative agreement, in fact, endorses what both Barak and Sharon have publicly said, along with the administration of the new U.S. President George W. Bush, that the previous offers made by Israel during the past 15 months are now baseless.

Israel's Sharon suffers setback, Labor lawmaker says
February 12, 2001

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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