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Calls Grow for Unity Government After Knesset Passes Wye Accord

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has won a major Knesset vote, thanks to the opposition.

Far from receiving applause for his victory, Netanyahu faced growing calls to form a national unity government or go to early elections after most of the legislators who voted against the Wye accord late Tuesday night were members of Netanyahu’s own governing coalition.

While the Knesset approved the accord by 75-19 with nine abstentions, most of the support came from the opposition Labor Party.

Two of Netanyahu’s ministers from the National Religious Party voted against the accord. Seven other ministers, five of them from Netanyahu’s Likud Party, absented themselves from the Knesset floor when the vote was taken.

Among those calling on Netanyahu to change his government or seek early elections was legislator Aryeh Deri, a member of the fervently Orthodox Shas Party, which is part of the governing coalition.

“The prime minister should come out in a public call, out in the open, not in back-room dealings, to [opposition leader] Ehud Barak and his colleagues to join a national unity government,” Deri said.

“If not, the prime minister has to go to the people and say, `I did the best I could,’ and go to elections,” he told Israel Radio. “I don’t think that the coalition can function as it is, just as Ehud Barak knows he can’t bring down the government.”

For his part, Barak downplayed the idea of joining a national unity government.

But at the same time, he pledged the Labor Party’s continued support for the Wye accord — “even if no Cabinet ministers support it.”

Transport Minister Shaul Yahalom, a member of the NRP, defended his decision to vote against the Wye agreement, even though it constituted a vote of no- confidence in the government.

Referring to a decision earlier this week by the NRP Central Committee to defer for at least six weeks any support for a bill to call for early elections, he said that if Netanyahu continues to call on the Palestinians to live up to their part of the accord, “I will propose staying in the current government, which is still a bad alternative, but better than all the others.”

Coalition chair Meir Sheetrit took a less sympathetic view of Yahalom’s stand.

He and Labor legislator Avraham Shochat submitted a joint motion that any Cabinet member who votes no confidence in the government be immediately ousted from his position.

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