Barak assumes power with call for peace
July 6, 1999
JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Fifty days after voters rejected the hard- line policies of Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud Party in favor of a center-left coalition, Israel's most decorated soldier, former army chief Ehud Barak, took over as prime minister on Tuesday, promising to begin a mission of peace.
"I swear to be true to the state of Israel and its laws," Barak vowed as he took the oath of office, ending six weeks of delicate negotiations to form one of Israel's broadest coalitions in a decade.
In a parliamentary speech before the swearing in, Barak declared that a resolution to decades of conflict in the Middle East was his top priority.
"I call on all regional leaders to take our outstretched hand and to make a peace of the brave in the area," he said during the speech.
"The supreme goal will be to bring peace to the Israeli people," said Barak, so that "mothers can sleep peacefully" in Israel.
He said that peace would not come unless it was based on four pillars -- peace with Egypt, with Jordan, with Syria and Lebanon, and with the Palestinians. Israel has signed peace accords with Egypt and with Jordan, leaving two remaining steps to a lasting peace in the region, Barak said.
"These two assignments together -- the reaching of a permanent agreement with the Palestinians and the achieving of peace with Syria and Lebanon -- are equally vital and urgent in my eyes," he said.
Initial Palestinian response to Barak's speech was positive.
"We are ready to work together to achieve the peace of the brave," Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat said, echoing Barak. "The Palestinian track is the central issue in the Arab world."
Netanyahu, in his last parliamentary address as prime minister, resigned his Knesset membership in a speech that lasted less than three minutes.
Barak presented his cabinet, pieced together with representatives of seven parties, to a Knesset with nearly two-thirds of its membership signed on to the new prime minister's coalition. He said he would soon ask lawmakers to make room for more ministers due to the size of his coalition.
After Barak's speech, the Knesset debated and voted on Barak's choices, which were handily approved.
Earlier, the Labor Party's candidate for speaker of the Knesset, lawmaker Avraham Burg, was overwhelmingly approved by the members of parliament. Burg, however, was not Barak's choice for the post -- Labor leaders rejected relatively unknown politician Shalom Simchon in favor of Burg, who once called Barak's leadership "dictatorial."
Correspondent Jerrold Kessel contributed to this report.
Barak ready to assume office
Israel's Institutions of Government
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