Israel's Unruly Labor Party Says 'Yes' to Sharon's National Unity
A two-thirds majority of Israel's Labor party central committee voted Monday night to join a national unity government under Prime Minister-elect Ariel Sharon, said reports.
However, the stormy and at times near-violent session of the party convention also overruled its ministers in the outgoing government and decided that the central committee will choose on Thursday who will serve in the putative Sharon government, said Haaretz newspaper.
The vote for national unity was regarded as a resounding victory for former prime minister Shimon Peres who, even without a formal vote, seemed to have seized leadership of the party, according to the paper.
The result of the vote was announced by the party secretary-general, Ra'anan Cohen.
Following that, Peres took the podium and told the remaining members of the central committee the vote "was a service to the state and to the Labor Party."
He said the half-day session of the party convention was "an example of the party's living democracy," and called on the one-third who opposed the national unity coalition to support the party nonetheless, said the paper.
He especially asked those who had spoken against joining Sharon's coalition to press their candidacies in Thursday's vote.
The main bout during the meeting was clearly an on-stage argument between foreign minister, Shlomo Ben-Ami and Peres.
Ben-Ami said joining Sharon's government "nauseated" him, and although he did not name Peres directly, he pointedly claimed that "you, who would lead the government into this coalition, will turn the party into one that supports the status quo instead of change. You are accelerating the clinical death of this party."
Ben-Ami, said Haaretz, wasn't alone in opposing national unity.
Knesset speaker, Avrum Burg, and justice minister, Yossi Beilin, joined him.
Outside the Cinerama area where the meeting took place, police rebuffed members of the party youth wing when they tried to crash the convention to demonstrate for national unity, said Haaretz. Inside, heckling, catcalls, and spontaneous demonstrations of protest or support greeted almost every speaker.
The labor's decision came less than a month after Ehud Barak, politically devastated by the violence and his controversial peace proposals to the Palestinians, lost to Sharon by a humiliating 25 points.
A Likud spokesman welcomed the vote, saying: "finally the Labor party may be coming on board," AFP reported.
Senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat called the vote an "Israeli internal affair," according to the agency.
"What we are looking for is that (Israel) should resume the negotiations where they ended," Erakat told AFP.
Labor has been promised eight ministries in the incoming government, including two of the most powerful, foreign affairs and defense - Albawaba.com
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