JERUSALEM (Jul. 10)
Despite the glum political picture facing Ehud Barak this week, the besieged prime minister could draw some encouragement from the results of a poll.
According to the survey published Monday, 55 percent of the respondents thought Barak should go to the Camp David summit, while 45 percent did not.
Similarly, 53 percent thought he had a mandate to make concessions to the Palestinians, while 44 percent disagreed. The poll, which was carried out for the Israeli daily Yediot Achronot, questioned 502 people and had a 4.5 percent margin of error.
The poll was published before Barak set off for the U.S.-sponsored peace summit Monday night bearing what he termed the “mandate of the people,” after surviving a no-confidence motion in the Knesset.
Barak delayed his departure for the United States by several hours to participate in the Knesset session, during which the opposition Likud Party failed to muster the 61 votes needed to topple Barak’s government.
However, the opposition did receive more votes than the government. The final tally was 54 in favor of the no-confidence motion, 52 against and seven abstentions.
Barak called the opposition’s refusal to agree to let absent legislators take part in the vote “childish.”
The vote came a day after three right-leaning parties — Yisrael Ba’Aliyah, Shas and the National Religious Party — resigned from Barak’s coalition over the concessions they fear Barak is willing to make to the Palestinians at Camp David.
In a further blow, Foreign Minister David Levy on Sunday turned down an invitation to accompany Barak to the summit.
Levy, who has also raised reservations about the handling of the negotiations, did, however, vote with the government in Monday’s no-confidence motion.
Despite being left with a legislative minority of 42 as a result of the three parties’ defections, Barak told the Knesset on Monday he had an overwhelming mandate from the public to pursue the peace process.
“I am not going alone. With me are almost 2 million voters — citizens who want peace, who want to give change a chance, and hope for a different Israel at peace with its neighbors,” he said.
Barak has rejected calls to form a national unity government or a coalition that relies on the support of Israeli Arab parties.
Instead, he repeated Monday that he must do everything possible to seek peace. Should the summit fail, he added, the nation would be united in the knowledge that every avenue had been exhausted.
During the Knesset debate, opposition leader Ariel Sharon assailed Barak’s claim of representing the majority.
“You are alone,” Sharon said. “The prime minister who wanted to be prime minister of everybody, within a year has become a prime minister of almost no one.”
Commentators said the resignations of the three coalition members resulted from their unease over being associated with the still-unknown outcome of Camp David.
Depending on the results of the summit, they said, those parties may always find a way back into the government.
For this reason, Barak is currently not interested in forming a narrow coalition. Similarly, it is too early to speak of a national unity government as long as a peace option is still being explored.
Commentators said that only after the summit will the Israeli political map become clearer.