Changing of the guard in Israeli politics

Barak: Election result promises peace among Israelis, with neighbors

coalition is still needed.

May 18, 1999

EHUD Barak won Israel's election for prime minister because he is not Benjamin Netanyahu.

But not all Barak votes were Labor Party votes. Mr. Barak must now stitch together a coalition with smaller parties, each having its own agenda. The frailty inherent in such arrangements finally brought down the hard-line Mr. Netanyahu

The Knesset elected yesterday may last less than the allotted four years. Its predecessor was elected three years ago.

The world expects General Barak to reach an accord with the Palestinian Authority that includessafeguards for Israelis' security and that will win the approval of most Israelis and Palestinians. Then, the expectation is that he will move to seek understandings with Syria and Lebanon.

Among politicians, the former general is a moderate. Although issues of peace and security were hardly debated in the campaign, Mr. Barak was endorsed as a peacemaker who will not give away the store and who inspires confidence.

The issue uppermost for Israelis was the challenge of national unity and identity. What kind of Israel should this 50-year-old democracy be? Fragmentation along ethnic, generational and religious lines is the danger, and a broad-based coalition among them the solution.

The relationship between these two transcendent issues is clear. An Israel at peace with itself can make peace with Palestinians, if the Palestinians are equally united and willing. The benefits to Israel's long-term security of real peace with the Arab world would be enormous.

As a political leader, Mr. Barak needs to reinvent Labor and ensure that the party has a large enough tent for observant and secular Jews, Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox, Sephardic and Ashkenazic, European and North African, new arrivals and Israeli-born. That will not be easily done.

Mr. Barak's victory opened up great opportunities for regional peace that had not been seen clearly in three years, but they are not easy ones to accomplish. High expectations are back, as his curse and blessing.

Pub Date: 5/18/99

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