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World - Middle East

Barak wins Cabinet enlargement, loses esteem


August 5, 1999
Web posted at: 8:05 p.m. EDT (0005 GMT)

In this story:

'A personal touch which is questionable'


JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Despite criticism and complaints that he was overstepping his bounds, Israeli Prime Minster Ehud Barak won parliamentary backing Thursday to add five seats to his Cabinet.

The victory is the latest in a string of political triumphs for Barak that has confounded experts -- and raised questions about the new prime minister's political style.

"The main complaint about Barak is that he is in a way arrogant, that he works alone, that he doesn't rely on other people's experience and that he thinks he knows it all by himself," said political analyst Chemi Shalev.

The move to expand the Cabinet drew complaints even from within Barak's own Labor Party.

'A personal touch which is questionable'

"He's misusing the powers given him, and he's got a personal touch which is questionable," said Yael Dayan, a Labor colleague overlooked for the Cabinet.

"I don't know his motivation to bend hands, to show muscle ... a zero-sum game. I hope this isn't going to be reflected in the way he treats our partners for peace," Dayan said.

Barak's new ministers are from centrist or left-wing parties, solidifying the secular, centrist character of the government. He had sought to expand the Cabinet to accommodate demands from his broad seven-party coalition for executive posts.

After his resounding election victory in May, Barak's reputation was boosted by a diplomatic blitz that made Arab and world leaders believe in his commitment to reviving the defunct peace process.

But the problems of peacemaking are prompting a closer dissection of Barak's politics and style than is customary for a new Israeli leader.

His call for the Palestinians to forge a joint framework for promoting peace has run into difficulty, even though his negotiators have been insisting to Palestinians that he is more trustworthy that his predecessor, Benjamin Netanyahu.

"(Barak) is surprised because he comes with a great deal of sincerity and good will and he still finds at the other side of the table a good deal of suspicion and mistrust," said Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh.

But chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat says, "What really worries us is he is a man of his words.

"His words are (that) he won't give us anything on Jerusalem, on the (West Bank) settlements, on our refugees," Erekat said. "What kind of peace can we make with those words?"

Correspondent Jerrold Kessel and Reuters contributed to this report.

Israel: West Bank troop withdrawals will start in October
August 1, 1999

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