After 50 days of exhausting and erratic political negotiations, Ehud Barak was sworn in on July 6 1999 as Israel's Prime Minister. He immediately promised that his foremost priority would to pursue of a "true, lasting peace." Some local analysts feel that the composition of his coalition, which combines secular liberal elements with conservative religious parties, is problematic and will eventually lead to the bloc's early dissolution. Other experts, however, maintain that the massive Knesset faction Barak heads (75-85 seats out of 120) will enable him to gain majority support on any given issue.
Barak's preliminary negotiations with the Palestinians have proceeded relatively smoothly. The July 1999 Sharm El-Sheikh Agreement marks the resumption of final status talks. Within its framework, more land transferred to Palestinian control, scores of Palestinian prisoners have been released, and a "safe passage" route linking the West Bank and Gaza was opened.
Still, a tough road remains ahead for the Israeli administration. Within the framework of final status negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, a compromise solution must be reached regarding sensitive issues such as the return of refugees and Jerusalem. Barak also promised his constituency a complete withdrawal from Southern Lebanon within 12 months. This issue, however, is connected to peace on the Syrian front. As of mid-December 1999, direct Israeli-Syrian negotiations are resuming.
© 2000 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)