Cabinet Backs Premier, but New Elections Likely

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has gotten the Cabinet’s backing for his stance on halting implementation of the Wye agreement.

But at the same time, the premier has signaled that the collapse of his government and the scheduling of early elections are inevitable.

During its weekly session Sunday, the Cabinet voted to suspend the Wye agreement until it feels the Palestinian Authority has lived up to its part of the accord.

Reaffirming the stance adopted by Netanyahu earlier this month, the Cabinet called on the Palestinian Authority to take the following steps before Israel would move forward on implementation of the Wye accord:

cancel plans to declare an independent state unilaterally next May 4;

acknowledge that the Wye accord does not call on Israel to release any Palestinian prisoners with blood on their hands;

stop inciting violence among the Palestinian people;

confiscate illegal weapons; and

reduce the Palestinian police force to the size specified in the Oslo accords.

In the weeks since Netanyahu announced these conditions, the Palestinian Authority has maintained that it already met its obligations under the Wye accord, adding that Israel is seeking excuses not to implement its part of the agreement.

The prime minister sought the Cabinet vote to shore up right-wing support in advance of a crucial Knesset vote Monday that is expected to force early elections.

Netanyahu, who plans to present the Cabinet motion to the Knesset on Monday, has stated that he will call for new elections if Parliament fails to back his stance on Wye.

Despite his last-ditch effort to hold the coalition together, the prime minister sounds as if early elections are inevitable.

Speaking on Channel 2 Television, Netanyahu dismissed questions about whether Parliament would be dissolved and new elections held.

“The real question is, what will the elections be about,” he said.

A bill sponsored by Israel’s opposition Labor Party to call for early elections is likely to pass the Knesset on Monday, according to Israeli political observers.

Because of the governing coalition’s narrow Knesset majority of 61-59, far- right coalition members whose votes are expected to be a deciding factor in Monday’s vote came under pressure from both ends of the political spectrum.

Meanwhile, a group representing settlers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip called on right-wing legislators to oppose holding early elections.

The Yesha Council, which has bitterly criticized Netanyahu, said he is still preferable to any other candidate who might win such an election.

If Netanyahu adheres to his demands on the Palestinian Authority, “the government can be allowed to continue to exist,” settler leader Pinchas Wallerstein told Israel Radio. “There is no reason to drag the country into an embarrassing situation.”

Much of the talk about early elections has focused on the possible formation of a new, centrist party and who would lead it.

Among the names put forward as possible candidates for the new party are former army chief of staff Amnon Shahak, former Tel Aviv Mayor Roni Milo and Likud Knesset member Dan Meridor.

An opinion poll indicated that Shahak would be Netanyahu’s most formidable challenger if new elections were held.

Shahak’s possible candidacy raised concern in the Labor Party, which views him as someone who could split the vote with Labor’s leader, Ehud Barak, and force a runoff between one of them and Netanyahu.

Under Israeli law, Shahak, currently on leave from the army, must wait 100 days from the time he retires from the army before entering politics.

A Knesset committee was expected to discuss this week shortening the period army officers and government officials must wait before entering the political arena.

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