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The BBC's Hilary Anderson
"This doesn't close the door on the possibility of a coalition government"
 real 28k

The BBC's Paul Adams
"Ehud Barak appears to have changed his mind again"
 real 28k

Barak spokesman Avi Pazner
"He (Ehud Barak) had met a lot of resistance"
 real 28k

Thursday, 22 February, 2001, 05:15 GMT
Israeli unity government 'in days'
Palestinian demonstrate in the Gaza Strip in support of Iraq
Palestinians in Gaza voice their support for Iraq
Israel's Prime Minister elect, Ariel Sharon, says he is confident he will form a national unity government within days despite the divisions over the issue within the Labour party - his main prospective partner.


I am prepared to show patience in this matter. It will take several more days (but) it will happen

Ariel Sharon
Speaking in Jerusalem after being rebuffed by the outgoing leader, Ehud Barak, he said there was no alternative to a unity government and he would not give up trying to form one.

Mr Sharon made no mention of how cabinet posts would be allocated, but it has been reported by Israel radio that the defence portfolio - which Mr Barak turned down - has been offered to the former Labour party prime minister Shimon Peres.

For the second time this month, Mr Barak announced on Tuesday that he would take a complete break from politics. He has also resigned as leader of the Labour Party.

Barak's zigzags
6 Feb: Says he is quitting politics after election humiliation
9 Feb: Holds talks with Sharon on unity government
15 Feb: Agrees to become defence minister in unity government
20 Feb: Pulls out of unity government talks and says he is taking a break from politics
Despite Mr Sharon's expressed optimism about his ability to form a unity government, a BBC correspondent in Jerusalem says some senior Labour figures are working to bring him down.

Palestinian officials, meanwhile, say the turmoil within Israeli politics is harming the peace process.

Mr Zigzag

In a letter to Mr Sharon, Mr Barak accused him of seriously harming trust between them, apparently angered by Mr Sharon's willingness to include far-right parties in his national unity government.

Ehud Barak
Barak's image is tarnished within sectors of his own party
"I decided not to join a national unity government as defence minister or in any other post and it is my intention to leave political and diplomatic activity for a period of time - as I originally promised," Mr Barak wrote.

Shortly after the results of the 6 February prime ministerial election became clear, Mr Barak made his first announcement that he would quit politics.


The political chaos in Israel is harmful to the peace process

Nabil Abu Rudeina
Aide to Yasser Arafat
Nicknamed Mr Zigzag, for the number of times he has changed his mind on key policy issues, Mr Barak began talks with Mr Sharon over the defence post shortly afterwards.

That infuriated many within his Labour Party which has been in turmoil since the elections.

Labour is in a heated leadership struggle and it is not clear who will now represent it in talks with Likud.

Likud pressure

Some want nothing to do with Mr Sharon and his Likud Party , while others feel Mr Barak should have stuck by his original intention to bow out of politics, blaming him for such a disastrous defeat.

Mr Sharon wants a broad-based government as his only alternative is a narrow, more hardline government, which could well collapse within months.

Ariel Sharon
Sharon: Needs Labour for stability
"We don't interfere in internal affairs of the Labour Party and Mr Barak was Sharon's preferred candidate for the defence portfolio, but we hope that his resignation will help the creation of a national unity government," Mr Sharon's spokesman, Raanan Gissin, said.

An aide to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, Nabil Abu Rudeina, warned on Wednesday that "the political chaos in Israel is harmful to the peace process".

"We are waiting to see what kind of government will be formed in Israel before making any judgment," Mr Rudeina told the AFP news agency.

Mr Barak was prime minister for less than two years, during which time he failed to reach a peace deal with the Palestinians.

Israelis became increasingly disenchanted with him during his last months in power when growing numbers of Israelis were killed in the wave of violence that has become known as the al-Aqsa intifada.

Some 410 people have been killed, most of them Palestinians, and about 60 Israelis.

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See also:

21 Feb 01 | Middle East
Analysis: Israel's political turmoil
21 Feb 01 | Middle East
Beginning of end for Barak?
20 Feb 01 | Middle East
Likud sets coalition deadline
16 Feb 01 | Middle East
Israel moves towards unity deal
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