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Israel’s Labor Party endorses Palestinian right to statehood

JERUSALEM, May 14 (JTA) — Israel’s Labor Party has decided to formally endorse the Palestinians’ right to a state with limited sovereignty. Labor officials agreed to add the plank to their platform during a party convention this week in Tel Aviv. Wednesday’s decision came a year after the Labor Party decided to drop opposition to a Palestinian state from its platform. The recognition came with the limitation that the Palestinians could not establish an army or form military alliances with other countries. In addition, the Labor plank said the Palestinians must give Israel’s air force access to airspace over the self-rule areas. In response, the Likud Party issued a statement saying the move proved that Labor would succumb to Arab pressures in forthcoming negotiations on final-status issues, which is slated to include the question of Palestinian sovereignty. The vote on the party platform, which will serve as the basis for Labor positions in the national elections scheduled for the year 2000, came a day after a stormy political showdown within the party. Knesset member Ehud Barak, the leading contender for the party leadership in next month’s primaries, at first objected to the explicit reference in the plank to a Palestinian state. But the hawkish former Israel Defense Force chief of staff, apparently softened by a victory over outgoing party chairman Shimon Peres, ultimately withdrew his objections. At its opening session Tuesday night, the 3,500 Labor delegates overwhelmingly heeded Barak’s call and voted to postpone until September a discussion of whether to appoint Peres to the new position of party president. Barak, who opposed the proposal, said that bestowing the title on Peres would lead to divisions in the party and create confusion about who was really in charge. The vote was viewed as a stinging defeat for Peres, who met with close colleagues Wednesday to assess its aftermath. He said he had no intention of quitting the Labor Party or of taking his supporters to join a national unity government with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Peres added that he would cooperate with the winner of the June primaries, and that he planned to continue pursuing peace with the Palestinians.