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The BBC's Hilary Andersson
"Ehud Barak is facing major political problems"
 real 28k

Monday, 1 May, 2000, 14:28 GMT 15:28 UK
Barak faces coalition break-up
Palestinian Yasser Abed Rabbo is in talks with Israeli Oded Eran
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak is facing a coalition government crisis, amid a fresh round of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

Mr Barak has been meeting with the various coalition parties to persuade them to stay onboard despite plans for putting three villages near Jerusalem into Palestinian control.

He has offered the influential spiritual leader of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish Shas party financial aid for its religious education network, in return for backing in the peace process with the Arabs.

But now the liberal Meretz party is threatening to walk out of the coalition if the prime minister grants new funds to the Shas school system.

Ehud Barak: Coalition problems
Ehud Barak needs the support of both parties if he is to push through his ambitious plans for making peace with the Palestinians in the coming months.

Yisrael Ba'aliya and the National Religious Party who are minor partners in the coalition are refusing to accept the transfer of villages to the Palestinians.

One of the villages, Abu Dis near occupied east Jerusalem, is often touted as a possible future capital of an independent Palestinian state.

The handover is a highly symbolic gesture, giving Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority a toehold close to the centre of Jerusalem.

Palestinian state

The Palestinians insisted on Monday that their right to an independent state was not negotiable, in the new round of intensive peace talks with Israel.

"I would like to stress that the Palestinian state is not an issue on the table," chief Palestinian negotiator Yasser Abed Rabbo told reporters.

"This is a purely internal Palestinian issue and it is for the Palestinian insitution to decide on it."

Israeli settler protesting in Hebron
Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, has vowed to declare an independent state in September, even if the peace negotiations fail to result in an accord with Israel by then.

Negotiators from the two sides are meeting in Eilat with a looming mid-May deadline for a framework peace accord on the final status of the Palestinian territories.

"If a Palestinian state is created it will be the result of negotiations," a statement from Mr Barak's office said.

"Israel's position on the issue will be presented during the discussions depending on how they develop," it added.

But Mr Arafat, speaking after a meeting in Gaza with Australian Prime Minister John Howard, said a Palestinian state was a "natural right" which was included in agreements already reached with Israel.

The talks began hours later than scheduled as Palestinian officials protested after learning about plans to build 174 homes in Maale Adumim, on the outskirts of Jerusalem.

Long road

The talks in the Israeli resort are aimed at drafting a framework for a final settlement.

Negotiators plan to remain in seclusion in a hotel until Tuesday but despite the tense atmosphere, negotiators ended Sunday's session with a group splash in the hotel pool.

US mediator Dennis Ross is due to fly to the region to participate in the negotiations on Tuesday.

The US has said it is prepared to play a more active role in the Palestinian track at the request of both Israel and the Palestinians.

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01 May 00 | Middle East
Clashes at West Bank village
21 Apr 00 | Middle East
US offers active Mid-East role
19 Mar 00 | Middle East
Israel approves land transfer
31 Jan 00 | Middle East
Jerusalem: Eternal, intractable
07 Mar 00 | Middle East
Arafat: Palestinian state 'this year'
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