Barak, Sharon Hold Talks
JERUSALEM (AP) _ Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak on Thursday urged the hawkish opposition Likud party to join his shaky coalition and held late-night talks with Likud leader Ariel Sharon. Barak offered Sharon a major role in a new government.
It was a Sept. 28 visit by Sharon to a Jerusalem shrine holy to Muslims and Jews that sparked the current wave of violence in the region that has led to more than 90 deaths, mostly Palestinian.
The inclusion of Sharon would likely be seen as a signal that Barak is abandoning his dovish platfom.
In an interview with CNN, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat called Sharon, ``the death kiss to the peace process.″
Barak has been asking Likud to join his coalition to unite Israelis at a time of deepening crisis.
``The best thing is a national unity government even if it will take three or four days and to establish it and get it on its way,″ Barak told Israel TV. ``We are facing the Palestinians and the Arab worlds and even facing friends and fewer friends in the entire world.″
With Likud in the government, it would become more difficult for Barak to resume peace negotiations. Sharon staunchly opposes concessions to the Palestinians.
A statement from the prime minister’s office said Barak briefed Sharon on Thursday’s violent events, including the killing of three Israeli soldiers in the West Bank city of Ramallah and Israel’s retaliatory strikes against Palestinian command centers. Talks between the two would continue over the weekend, Barak’s office said.
Sharon, mastermind of Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon, is a controversial figure in Israel. In interviews Thursday, Barak sought to allay concerns among his own constituents, but also offered Sharon a major role in his government.
``Ariel Sharon is an appropriate, serious and of course an important partner for a national unity government and of course in such a government he can have an influence. He’s not a man that can be ignored,″ Barak said.
Earlier Thursday, Sharon’s office said the Likud leader rejected an initial offer by Barak to join forces because the Israeli leader had wanted to stick with a more dovish approach to peace negotiations.
Likud official Moshe Arens, who served as defense minister in the early 1990s, told Israel radio Thursday that a national unity government would only be possible if it reflected more of the views of the Likud.