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Tuesday, 20 February, 2001, 13:57 GMT
Likud sets coalition deadline
Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon
Labour is split on the Barak-Sharon deal
The Likud party of Israeli Prime Minister-elect Ariel Sharon has told Ehud Barak he has a week to decide whether or not to join a unity coalition.


The government's fate will sealed on Monday

Ehud Olmert
It warned the outgoing premier that other potential partners would be courted if he failed to win over his Labour party when it votes on whether to back the deal on Monday.

The controversial proposal, agreed last Thursday, is being seen as Israel's best hope for Middle East peacemaking, but has sharply split Labour.

Mr Sharon must present a government by the end of March or face new elections.

His government's most pressing task on taking office will be to tackle almost five months of violence with the Palestinians which have left peace hopes in tatters.

Grave situation

Speaking on Israel's army radio, Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert, a senior Likud right-winger, said that his party would give Labour one week to make its decision.

"I hope the Labour party will approve the unity government and we can progress quickly," he said.

"But if that is delayed beyond Monday then another government will be formed."

Ehud Olmert
Mr Olmert says Labour has a week to decide
Ranaan Gissin, a spokesman for Mr Sharon, said: "We are simply urging them to finish as quickly as possible because of the gravity of the security situation."

He said he was concerned that unless the situation was resolved Israel would be "speaking with two voices" when US Secretary of State Colin Powell visits as part of his imminent tour of the Middle East.

If Labour refuses to join with Likud, Mr Sharon could be forced to ally with ultra-nationalist and religious parties, viewed as likely to obstruct any attempts at peacemaking.

Mr Sharon has already vowed to take a tough line with the Palestinians.

He is refusing to resume talks until there is an end to the violence which has so far claimed the lives of more than 400 people, the vast majority of them Palestinians.

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See also:

16 Feb 01 | Middle East
Israel moves towards unity deal
14 Feb 01 | Middle East
US: Mid-East getting out of control
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