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Wednesday, December 16, 1998 Published at 20:09 GMT

World: Middle East

Netanyahu threatens early poll

Violence has swept the West Bank in the last fortnight

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has said he will call early elections if he fails in a last ditch attempt to stablise his shaky coalition.

Middle East
Mr Netanyahu has urged opposition parties, in particular the Labour Party, to join him in a government of national unity.

But the leader of the opposition Labour party, Ehud Barak, immediately ruled out giving support to Mr Netanyahu's government. Mr Barak said Israel was going to have early elections.

Paul Adams: The feeling is these are manoeuvres to keep him in power
A general election is not due in Israel until the year 2000, but Mr Netanyahu's seven party coalition is falling apart over the US brokered peace deal with the Palestinians.

The latest manoeuvre on Wednesday comes ahead of a vote of no-confidence in parliament on Monday.

Hardliners are bitterly opposed to the peace accord in which Israel has agreed to hand over a further slice of the West Bank to Palestinian control.

Finance minister quits

[ image: Mr Netanyahu faces a no confidence vote]
Mr Netanyahu faces a no confidence vote
The latest development comes as Finance Minister Yaacov Neeman confirmed he was quitting - saying the government has ceased functioning.

Mr Neeman issued a statement with his resignation letter sharply criticising the government's inability to push his 1999 budget legislation through parliament during the past two months.

"In a situation where the coalition has ceased to function and every member of parliament takes the law into his own hands, anarchy rules public funds," Mr Neeman said.

"The only way to correct the situation is to have a large national consensus that will allow for a stable financial policy," he said.

National unity coalition

He appealed to Mr Netanyahu to form a national unity coalition with the opposition Labour Party.

[ image: The new crisis comes just a day after Mr Clinton's visit]
The new crisis comes just a day after Mr Clinton's visit
"A broad government will help Israel address the burning issues of the state: permanent status negotiations (with the Palestinians), security in Lebanon, negotiations with Syria," he added.

Mr Neeman, who is on a skiing vacation in Switzerland, faxed his resignation letter to Jerusalem. Officials said he wanted to avoid coming under pressure from Mr Netanyahu to rescind his decision.

Peace process in trouble

The latest developments come just a day after US President Bill Clinton's departure from the region following a three day trip to salvage the beleaguered peace deal.

Paul Adams reports: Polls may be the only alternative
Under the Wye River accord, Israel undertook to carry out further troop withdrawals from the West Bank in return for a Palestinian crack down on militant violence.

However, Mr Netanyahu has suspended Friday's scheduled pullback saying the Palestinians are not keeping to their side of the deal.

He is demanding a list of concessions from the Palestinians including renouncing any unilateral declaration of independence and rounding up suspected terrorists in the Palestinian terrorists.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat said Israel was dangerously violating the agreement, but the Palestinians say they are sticking to their Wye River commitments despite Israel's freeze.

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