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Ehud Barak to Resign as Israeli Prime MinisterAired December 9, 2000 - 2:25 p.m. ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOIE CHEN, CNN ANCHOR: We want to move immediately to our sister network CNN International, late developments now, an announcement. CNN has confirmed that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak intends to resign on Sunday.
Let's listen now to CNN International.
JIM CLANCY, CNN ANCHOR: ... surprised, Ehud Barak scheduling an address to the Israeli people and then dropping a bombshell that he was going to go to the president and submit his resignation, triggering a call for a special election. Had anyone predicted this?
JERROLD KESSEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No. No, quite frankly, no. There had been some thought of this before Mr. Barak, again, took the wind out of the sails to some degree of the political opposition two weeks ago when they had him on the run and he agreed to a general election. That was in the Knesset, the parliament. Mr. Barak agreed to an election, and it seemed as if that would shape up in that direction.
But since then, there has been this prognostication, the different parties maneuvering for position, and Mr. Barak continuing to slide in opinion polls. One has to stress that. The situation unresolved in terms of the confrontation with the Palestinian in terms of the political attempts to get a political negotiated settlement with the Palestinians seemingly going nowhere.
In that context, all of those elements coming together of a difficult turmoil in the political system, of the confrontation on the battlefield continuing, of a failure and a seemingly endless failure -- endless effort to get the negotiations started again and Mr. Barak's personal position on the slide. He's pulled out another rabbit out of the hat and saying there will be another general election but not a general election, only for the prime minister, and that he will, therefore, seek the nomination of his party and of the left wing, or of the center-left wing of Israeli politics to compete against any one of the other members of the Knesset.
It really is a preemption of Benjamin Netanyahu and of the very difficult political situation in which Mr. Ehud Barak finds himself.
It also puts the onus on the Israeli people to come up and challenge what Mr. Barak said in that 20-minute speech which he delivered to the Israeli people, only at the end of which he dropped this bombshell when he said we are going, he and his party, were going down the right lane looking for a peace settlement all the time as they were confronting the Palestinians on the battleground.
And he said the right wing has no political alternative, no security alternative. That will be the challenge now facing the Israeli people. It is a gauntlet thrown down by the Israeli prime minister, many of whom are saying is a political novice. This is a dramatic political attempt to try to recover the lost ground which he has been sliding from consistently all the time -- Jim.
CLANCY: Jerrold, Ehud Barak, well-known military strategist now really coming to the fore as something of a political strategist here. And I want to go over this for our U.S. viewers. What had been happening in Israel over the recent weeks with the flare-up of violence with the Palestinians is that Benjamin Netanyahu, the former prime minister, was gaining -- dramatically gaining ground, even over his Likud colleague Ariel Sharon, dramatically gaining ground by make this preemptive move now.
Ehud Barak could not possibly face Benjamin Netanyahu in a race. It won't be that be showdown. Israeli voters will have a different man to choose as an -- from as an opponent to Ehud Barak. Isn't that right, Jerrold?
KESSEL: Indeed. Unless the Knesset can find a way, or its political opponents, can find a way to triple trump him, if that's the word, because Mr. Barak has doubled trumped the politicians by limiting the election, if it is to be, to himself -- to any one of the members of the Knesset. The 120 members of the Knesset, they're the only ones who can run for the premiership if it is a battle, a race only for the premiership and not for a general dissolution of parliament.
And you're absolutely right to point out that in the opinion polls as they were reflected only this weekend in yesterday's weekend Israeli newspapers when the major polls are published, and Mr. Barak continued to be on the slide. Mr. Netanyahu had in one poll I believe something like 50 against 36, 37 for Mr. Barak. In another, it was Mr. Netanyahu 45 against Mr. Barak at 28.
So -- and with Mr. Sharon, who is the current -- Ariel Sharon -- the current leader of the right wing and a member of the Knesset, he is about neck and neck, although slightly shaded by Mr. Sharon. I think there is simply a political gambit here by Mr. Barak, trying to challenge whoever there is now in the race, or the possibility of running against him, to come up with a better alternative to handling the situation both on the battleground with the Palestinians and at the negotiating table, even if that negotiating table isn't very much in action at the moment.
And Mr. Barak is clearly saying this has to be done now because what was happening over the last two weeks, ever since the Knesset set in motion that dynamic to which Mr. Barak referred to about a new general election, was that they were talking about the date of the election being pushed off as far as middle and late May, which is like six months, five to six months away, and so much can happen in that time. Mr. Barak saying now, there must be election here and now. By the Israeli -- the laws of the Knesset, that election must take place within 60 days.
CLANCY: All right. Just a point of order, as we go ahead, Jerrold. Obviously, this hitting like a bombshell, I'm sure in Israel. But as we try to understand it, Mr. Barak will, of course, carry on as prime minister, will he not, until the election is held, as you say, within 60 days?
KESSEL: Absolutely. The Israeli law is absolutely clear that the sitting prime minister and his government remains in power until the next government when the next prime minister has come to power. But I'm bound to say that this is a totally new -- totally new territory for Israeli politics and Israeli constitutional law because it was only six years ago or so that Israel amended its proportional representation parliamentary system, where the prime minister...
CHEN: All right, we want to break out of that statement coming to us on CNN International. Again, for viewers who are just joining us, the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Barak, announcing in Israel today that he intends to resign tomorrow, that he intends to call for special elections within 60 days in which he will be a contender for his own position.
Now, there's a series of dramatic developments, of course, coming out of the violence that has continued through the Middle East.
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