Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak declared during his speech before the Knesset Tuesday that he was ready for early elections.
"I am ready for general elections for the prime minister and the Knesset," he said during a stormy debate in parliament as it prepared to vote on a series of opposition-sponsored bills calling for new elections.
"I'm not blind. I can see that the Knesset wants new elections. I am not afraid of elections. I have always won," Barak told the lawmakers.
In the speech, monitored in Amman live on the Israeli Channel 3 TV, the prime minister said that all parties will decide in the following few days on the exact date of the elections.
When the vote came, five bills, all but one sponsored by the right-wing opposition Likud party, were voted on and all passed with more than the 61 votes required.
Arab MK Ahmad Tibi told Al Jazira satellite channel that 76 parliamentarians supported the early elections bill, adding that he believed the second and third readings will be in favor of the dissolution of the Knesset and conducting new elections, that will probably take place next April.
According to Tibi, Barak had to succumb to the wish of the Knesset, “where the majority do not trust Ehud Barak and his policies.”
Foreign Minister Shlomo ben Ami said that the elections will definitely take place in the Spring of 2001, in April or May.
For his part, Likud leader Ariel Sharon attacked Barak, saying that “the responsibility for the situation in Israel and the fact we are obliged to go to early elections at such a bad time is down to one man: Prime Minister Ehud Barak,”
Barak’s opposition in the parliament, headed by the Likud, had proposed the new elections after they refused to join a national unity government that Barak has worked for in vain.
Earlier in the day, Barak had called on Sharon to join a national emergency government to deal with the unrest in the Palestinian territories, saying "the nation and MPs themselves deep down are not interested in elections at this time," according to AFP.
The Palestinians have warned that they will not resume peace negotiations if a future Israeli government included Sharon.
They blame Sharon for triggering the current wave of unrest by his visit on September 28 to the al-Aqsa mosque compound in occupied east Jerusalem, said the agency.
After Barak's announcement, Ben Ami said the issue of a deal with Sharon was "no longer on the table" and that he was "very happy to see this has gone down the drain."
Barak dismissed a public opinion poll released Friday which gave former right-wing prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu a 21 percentage point lead, said AFP.
Netanyahu, who took a time out from politics after losing to Barak in a landslide, has consistently led both Barak and Sharon in opinion polls – (Several Sources)
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