Pressure builds on peace talks as Knesset prepares for recess

JERUSALEM, July 27 (JTA) — The impending start of the Knesset’s summer recess has increased the pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to reach an agreement with the Palestinians. The premier, who has promised to present any such agreement to the Knesset for approval, was facing threats from the Third Way Party to secede from the governing coalition if no action was taken before the end of the week. Further complicating the choices facing the premier, right-wing members of his coalition have threatened to bolt the coalition if he gives away what they see as too much land in any deal with the Palestinian Authority. Meanwhile, with the Knesset’s three-month recess slated to begin Thursday, President Ezer Weizman again called for early elections. Weizman, who reached a temporary truce with Netanyahu after recently issuing a similar call, said he was “not in a good mood” over the continued deadlock in the negotiations with the Palestinians. He added that the Israeli public ought to be given the opportunity to have its say in the peace process. Agriculture Minister Rafael Eitan and Science Minister Silvan Shalom criticized the president’s remarks. Eitan said such political interference by a president was unprecedented. Shalom said it was “hardly coincidental” that Weizman had spoken in favor of early elections just days before a scheduled Knesset vote on that very issue. In a different vote held Monday, the Knesset rejected a series of a no- confidence measures against Netanyahu brought by the opposition over the premier’s handling of the peace process. The measures were presented by the Labor Party, Meretz and Hadash. At the last minute, Netanyahu convinced the Moldet Party, a member of his coalition, to drop an additional no-confidence motion. Another coalition member, the National Religious Party, abandoned its threats of recent days to vote against the government, instead giving the premier its support. Former Foreign Minister David Levy’s Gesher Party did not take part in the vote. In the midst of these domestic pressures, Israel put forward new proposals in an attempt to jump-start the stalled negotiations, according to Palestinian sources. The sources, who would not get into specifics, made the comment Sunday after a secret meeting the night before between Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai and Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat’s deputy, Mahmoud Abbas. The two reportedly agreed that talks between small teams from the two sides would resume soon after having been suspended for several days. Meanwhile, Syrian President Hafez Assad traveled to Egypt on Sunday for a three-hour meeting with President Hosni Mubarak. The two leaders reportedly discussed a European proposal for a new multinational conference aimed at advancing the peace process.

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