BY BRIAN TAYLOR
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu's regime suffered another blow January 4 as Foreign Minister David Levy resigned, leaving the governing coalition with a marginal hold on parliament. The Labor Party, among others, announced it would move a no-confidence vote in parliament the following week. If the vote carries, it would force an election as early as March.
The main pressure fracturing the ruling coalition, which is headed by Netanyahu's right-wing Likud party, is the ongoing Palestinian resistance in the occupied territories of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. On January 2 tens of thousands of Palestinians rallied in Gaza to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the founding of Hamas, which calls for an end to Zionist rule in any part of Palestine.
Levy said "the partnership" with Netanyahu "had failed," citing disagreements on the so-called peace process. His Gesher party supports a partial withdrawal of Israeli forces from West Bank territories.
The West Bank has been occupied by Israeli troops since the Zionist regime seized it from Jordan in 1967. Under accords between Tel Aviv and the Palestine Liberation Organization, the Israeli regime is supposed to cede control over much of the West Bank to Palestinians. So far the Palestinian Authority has limited control over only 27 percent of the territory. At the same time, both the current regime and its Labor Party predecessor have encouraged the expansion of Zionist settlements in West Bank. And the Netanyahu government continues to waver on whether to carry out three withdrawals of Israeli troops from parts of the West Bank, as stipulated in the accords.
Levy's defection left Netanyahu's government with only 61 of the 120 parliamentary seats, and this bare majority appears shaky. Public Security Minister Avidgor Kahalani, for example, threatened to withdraw his four members of the Third Way Party if Netanyahu does not carry out the troop withdrawals from Palestinian territory. There are equal numbers of coalition members who oppose any return of land to Palestinian hands.
Washington, which continues to pressure Tel Aviv to stabilize relations with other regimes in the region, called for the Israeli government to come to a U.S.-sponsored meeting in Washington January 20 with a concrete proposal on a "credible and substantial .. redeployment" from roughly 10 percent of the West Bank. Israeli infrastructure minister Ariel Sharon rejected U.S. demands, and urged that any withdrawal should be "greatly limited." Some rightists are calling for Sharon to replace Levy as foreign minister.
Palestinian Cabinet member Hanan Ashrawi noted that all the hubbub in Tel Aviv about elections could "be used as a pretext to put the peace process on hold."
In quitting the cabinet, Levy also accused the prime minister - a longtime political rival - of ignoring the mounting problems of unemployment and poverty among Israelis. On January 5 Levy's party voted against Netanyahu's 1998 austerity budget. The measure passed in the parliament by a 58 to 52 vote, with one abstention. It includes $391 million in cuts.
Unemployment in Israel has topped 8 percent - its highest
point in more than three years - and it's expected to rise
further. Hundreds of people demonstrated in the streets of
Ofakim, Israel, in late December protesting unemployment. The
demonstrations shut down stores, schools, and municipal
services. The official jobless rate in that city stands at
14.3 percent, and residents say it's actually closer to 20
percent. At the head of these actions were city workers, who
have not gotten paid for November. The government claims it
cannot pay the wages without firing dozens of workers, cutting
government services, and raising property taxes by 20 percent.
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