Barak accepts Sharon's offer -- with conditions
TEL AVIV, Israel (CNN) -- Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak said on Thursday he has conditionally accepted an offer from Israeli Prime Minister-elect Ariel Sharon for his Labor Party to join a national unity government.
The announcement came after a late-night meeting between Barak and Sharon at Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv.
The agreement was conditional on ratification by the Labor Party and finalizing policy details and coalition guidelines. Those could be worked out as early as next week, the statement said.
"I think they crossed the point of no-return," said Raanan Gissin, a senior adviser to Sharon. "I would venture to say that it's almost a done deal."
The statement also said Barak had agreed that the key portfolios of defense and foreign affairs would go to his party. Sources close to Barak say he and Shimon Peres are likely to fill those positions.
Sharon has been pressuring Barak to join his government as defense minister, a key step in attempting to form a unity government. While the statement Thursday night did not address the possibility Barak would accept Sharon's offer of defense minister, Barak aides say he has decided to take it.
Two other posts on offer
They also say that Peres is expected to become foreign minister. Sharon is said to be considering that the post of finance minister also go to a Labor official.
Gissin told CNN, "Ariel Sharon was very honest and candid during the campaign when he said, that despite the differences, despite the fact that he thinks that Barak took the wrong approach to peace, he still values him very much as a defense minister.
"He knows the man and he believes as defense minister in a partnership government -- in a government where labor is partnered with the Likud, under his guidance -- Barak can fulfill the job in a very good way."
Gissin said that Sharon's desire to see Barak in the government also stemmed from his perception that the Israeli public wanted a unity government.
"People wanted unity, apart from voting for Sharon, they wanted a government of national unity," Gissin told CNN. "People wanted restoration of personal security. I think that, a government of national unity can do."
Asked about the stance of a potential unity government in peace talks with the Palestinians, Gissin said, "If there is a possibility of reaching an agreement with the Palestinians it is only a government of national unity that can do it.
"We tried governments on the right, narrow-based; we tried narrow-based governments on the left; it didn't work. The only real solution is a government of national unity," he said.
Party must approve deal
The tentative deal still needs approval from the forum of Barak's Labor Party and, although there is still some anger at Barak over his loss of the election and his strategy leading up to the vote, the party is expected to give its approval to the deal.
If the Labor Party ratifies Barak's decision to join Sharon, the defeated prime minister will be Labor's senior representative in the new government.
"I'm sure there will be haggling and back-and-forth going on," Gissin told CNN, "but eventually it will be resolved because I think the pressure from the people and ... the deterioration in the situation on the ground, as far as the security, calls for it."
Officials of the left-leaning Labor Party and Sharon's right-wing Likud party have been holding talks about the possibility of a national unity government since Sharon's overwhelming win over Barak in last week's election.
Sharon won the vote in part because of dissatisfaction with Barak's handling of a five-month-long Palestinian uprising that began after Sharon visited a disputed east Jerusalem holy site.
Barak, Israel's most decorated soldier, announced after his loss at the ballot box that he would temporarily step away from politics, but Sharon offered him the post as defense secretary.
The political discussions came at the end of a day in which Israelis buried more victims from an attack carried out by a Palestinian driver for an Israeli bus company.
The driver plowed his bus into a shelter south of Tel Aviv Wednesday, killing at least eight Israelis, seven of them soldiers.
The bloody conflict between Israelis and Palestinians rolled on Thursday morning as Israeli soldiers at the Kfar Darom settlement in Gaza encountered a man they said was wearing the uniform of a member of the Palestinian Preventative Security Service.
The IDF said the man, identified as 19-year-old Nassar Eben Machmud Al-Hassanat of the Deir el-Balah refugee camp, was trying to infiltrate the settlement's greenhouses and was wielding an assault rifle and a copy of the Koran.
"The terrorist was killed in the exchange of fire that ensued," an IDF statement read. "This response by IDF soldiers prevented an attack against civilians and soldiers."
Arafat accuses Israel of using poison gas
United Nations Human Rights Website
U.S. 'ready to talk' with N. Korea
Death toll nears 1,000 in South Asia's cold spell
IAEA: Year for Iraq inspections
U.S. doubles forces in Persian Gulf
Mugabe resignation offer proposed
OPEC to raise daily oil output
N. Y. plans to heal skyline
Stocks rise on Case departure
Lieberman's presidential announcement today
New arrests may be linked to UK ricin scare
Jordan says farewell for the third time
Shaq could miss playoff game for child's birth
Ex-USOC official says athletes bent drug rules
|Back to the top|