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ISRAEL'S PERES DEFEATED IN KNESSET
By MARK LAVIE
JERUSALEM (AP - 7/31) - In a stunning upset, a little-known opposition lawmaker defeated former Prime Minister Shimon Peres, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, in a vote in parliament Monday for president.
The victory of Moshe Katsav of the opposition Likud Party spelled a humiliating end to Peres' half-century political career and dealt another blow to beleaguered Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who was to face a no-confidence vote in parliament later in the day.
Barak's minority government was expected to survive the challenge, but just barely. A number of coalition legislators have defected to the opposition in recent weeks because of Barak's willingness to make land concessions to the Palestinians.
Peres had been the front-runner in the race for president, and was the public's favorite. Informal opinion surveys had given him a two-to-one lead over Katsav, who never rose above second-tier Cabinet posts in his 23 years in politics.
The presidency is largely ceremonial, but the incumbent - Ezer Weizman, who was forced to resign because of fraud allegations - has used the prestige of the post in support of Mideast peace efforts. Peres, who led his reluctant nation to peace negotiations with the Palestinians in 1993, had been expected to turn the presidency into a platform for assisting the negotiators.
Katsav started his career as Israel's youngest mayor in the 1969, when he was 24. He was elected to the parliament in 1977 and rose to tourism minister and deputy prime minister. Born in Iran, he presented himself as the representative of Israelis of Middle East origin.
Katsav won 63-57 in a second round of voting in Israel's 120-member unicameral parliament. In the first round, neither candidate received the required 61 votes.
Peres had counted on the support of many of the 22 religious lawmakers. When he was prime minister, his governments were consistently generous to the ultra-Orthodox, a chronically impoverished sector of Israel's society; in addition, Peres' wife, Sonya, is herself Orthodox.
On the other hand, the ultra-Orthodox have identified more with the Likud's foreign policy in recent years, and many see Katsav - who himself is religiously observant - as the more sympathetic candidate.
After the results of the first round were announced, Peres looked grim, trying hard to maintain composure as he walked past Labor party members. A jubilant Katsav said he was certain of victory.
Peres has had a topsy-turvy political career, holding nearly all of Israel's top jobs over the years, but also losing four of five elections for prime minister.
Peres served as prime minister three times, twice succeeding his longtime political rival, Yitzhak Rabin, and once in a rotation agreement after a deadlocked election. He is seen both as a visionary marching far ahead of his people and a merciless politician.
In 1993, Peres was the driving force behind Israel's breakthrough agreement of mutual recognition with the PLO, and he negotiated subsequent interim peace agreements.
Peres' defeat signaled a blow for Barak's own peace moves. He commands the loyalty of only 42 Knesset members. But another 20 or so lawmakers have said they would not topple his government over peace moves.
The votes come on the last day of the Knesset's summer session, and if Barak's minority government survives the no-confidence motion - as it is likely to - Barak will be free to pursue his peace agenda unhampered by parliamentary maneuvers until October.
That would allow Barak time to build up support for the concessions
to the Palestinians proposed at Camp David, especially on giving them some
control over East Jerusalem. Barak's readiness to go to Camp David, Md.,
lost him the support of three hawkish coalition partners and plunged him
into a minority government.
SHARON CLAIMS SUMMIT FAILURE "STAGED" FOR GORE'S SAKE
By Yossi Verter
Ha'aretz Political Correspondent
HA'ARETZ, 30 July:
Likud leader Ariel Sharon charged yesterday that Prime Minister Ehud Barak
and United States President Bill Clinton planned the crisis in the Camp
David summit talks in order to delay an Israeli-Palestinian accord until
October, the height of the race for the U.S. White House.
Sharon suggested that the aim of the staged delay was to aid the campaign
Clinton's vice-president, Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore.
Sharon, speaking to the Likud Executive Committee, attacked members
own party who had said he backed a national unity government. "We must be
prepared for elections, and therefore I appeal to all of our people: we
cannot approach such a difficult campaign while from within, we hear calls
of support for a unity government. This cannot be."
Sharon said that in his meeting with Barak last week, the prime minister
refused to disclose details of the Camp David talks beyond those already
published in the media.
"I went in there worried and I came out much more worried," Sharon said.
The Likud body, meeting in the party's Tel Aviv headquarters, declared
the party will not conduct negotiations over a unity government. The
committee said that Barak's surrender to Palestinian Authority Chairman
Yasser Arafat and his determination to continue the talks means further
serious damage to the unity of the people, to Israel's security and to the
integrity of Jerusalem.
"The Likud will act so as to bring down the Barak government and will
for new elections, to be held soon," the committee wrote in its decision.
The decision went on to accuse Barak of partitioning Jerusalem,
"distributing" Palestinian refugees across Israel, abandoning Israel's
security needs, ceding the Jordan Valley to foreign rule and leaving tens of
thousands of Jewish settlers vulnerable to deadly attack.
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