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Tuesday, 2 July, 2002, 19:45 GMT 20:45 UK
Indecision grips Israel's Labour Party
Israeli Defence Minister and Labour Party leader Binyamin Ben Eliezer
Pragmatists in Labour hope sharing power will rein in Sharon

The divisions within the Israeli left have been on open display at the annual conference of the Israeli Labour Party.

Speakers at the conference - which opened on Monday in Tel Aviv - were sharply divided over whether the party should remain in the governing coalition led by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his right-wing Likud Party.

Eventually, on Tuesday, they decided to put off indefinitely any vote on the matter.

With elections due in little over a year, the Israeli Labour Party is suffering from an agony of indecision.

The doves argue that by staying in Mr Sharon's coalition government, the party has lost its soul.

The pragmatists retort that, as long as they share power, they can steer Mr Sharon away from reckless adventurism - and that if they pull out, Labour would languish in the political wilderness.

Demoralised

For the moment, the pragmatists - led by the new party leader, Defence Minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer - have the upper hand, and so Labour clings to Mr Sharon's coat-tails, looking more and more rudderless and demoralised.

US President George W Bush
Bush's Middle East vision has received mixed reviews

Mr Sharon, meanwhile, seems determined to show that the political initiative is with him.

He has said repeatedly over the past few days that he has a plan to revive some kind of political process with the Palestinians.

But analysts inside and outside Israel are sceptical.

The timing suggests Mr Sharon has an eye, first and foremost, on the Bush administration.

Political rivals

Following US President George W Bush's long-awaited speech on the Middle East, delivered to mixed reviews last week, the Israeli prime minister clearly feels he has to show he has ideas of his own about creating what is euphemistically called a "political horizon".

This, in plain language, means light at the end of the long dark tunnel of violence over the last 21 months - violence which has left more than 2,000 dead.

But he also has an eye on Mr Ben Eliezer, who is a political rival as well as a cabinet colleague.

Each man wants to show he has ideas about peace, even though no one at the moment - whether in Washington or Tel Aviv or Ramallah - seems to have any credible plan for ending the crisis.


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22 May 02 | Middle East
21 May 02 | Media reports
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09 Jan 02 | Business
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