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2004.12.07 =>


More news from Germany that's not about Germany—woo!

Coalition effort in Israel - power struggle in Palestine

PLO head Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon have similar problems: their own people are making life difficult for them.

Until now the Palestinians had been coping fairly well with the transition into the post-Arafat era. They demonstrated unity in these delicate times, announced democratic elections for January 9, reduced force and spoke of resuming the peace process. A change was even noticeable in the media, where the agitprop [Hetzetiraden]against Israel decreased. For Mahmoud Abbas, who is being treated as the future President, things could not have gone better. But now the candidacy, just announced in the last moment, of Marwan Barghuti, the Fatah boss of the West Bank imprisoned in Israel, is putting things in uproar. As Barghuti is popular with the people [that doesn't sound like such a dumb tautology in German], he belongs to the so-called "Young Guard" within the Fatah movement. His veering into an independent candidacy could signal a division in the movement, where the representatives of the younger generation have already long been suing for a greater right of speech.

At the same time, it is not entirely clear what has disposed the 45-year-old Barghuti to his sudden change of intention. Just a few days before, he had declared his support for Abbas in the name of unity of the Fatah movement. It is rumored that his lawyer has advised him to this step, to strengthen his position against Israel and thereby raise his chances of release. Barghuti was sentenced to multiple life terms of imprisonment due to his role in the armed intifada. It might well be, then, that Barghuti will change his mind again before the election. But in any case his candidacy is a blow to Mahmoud Abbas, as it is to the overall Fatah movement.

Whereas the "No" that came for Ariel Sharon Wednesday evening in the Knesset was less surprising. The Israeli prime minister could not gather a majority behind him for the 2005 budget allocation, and thereupon fired his coalition partner Shinui. Now Sharon must look for new allies - either in the form of a "government of national unity" including the Labor Party and the ultraorthodox, or through the calling of new elections. The first alternative is more likely, as Sharon does not want to endanger the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip planned for next summer.

But new elections would once more delay the realization of his controversial partition plan. And so long as he stays this course, the left Yachad party in Parliament will want to support him. Sharon's greatest problems at present, however, are not against opposed politicians but rather - as with Mahmoud Abbas - his own people. Since Sharon needs the approval of his own party to suggest a grand coalition with the Labor Party, it is ever more at war with him. The dice will likely fall next week, when the Central Committe of Likud ought to decide whether Sharon may ally himself with the Labor Party. If not, the Israelis also will soon go to the polls.


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