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Barak Weathers Political Storm Caused by Middle East Peace Talks

Aired July 31, 2000 - 2:46 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak has weathered an effort to topple his government for his peace-making bit at Camp David. In a separate vote, a former Israeli peacemaker wasn't as lucky.

As CNN's Jerrold Kessel now reports, the votes reflect growing concern over the course of negotiations with the Palestinians.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JERROLD KESSEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He looked very much alone, but Ehud Barak survived the critical vote on his peace policy and a very harrowing day. In order to knock him out of office, his opponents needed an absolute majority of 61 votes in the 120-seat Knesset. They got only 50, the same as voted for Mr. Barak.

But earlier, a defeat for Mr. Barak, a stunning upset when his candidate Shimon Peres, the Nobel peace laureate and former prime minister, failed to become the state president. A vote for the right- wing parliamentarian, Moshe Katsav, produced opposition celebrations, and declarations that support for Mr. Katsav was also a protest against the prime minister's peace policy.

ARIEL SHARON, ISRAELI OPPOSITION LEADER: The election of Mr. Katsav really emphasizes that there is a resistance to the way that Barak took. Barak -- Prime Minister Barak broke his pledges. He promised but didn't accomplish anything.

KESSEL: Mr. Barak shrugged off the set back as irrelevant to his efforts to forge peace.

EHUD BARAK, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: Once, there will be an agreement -- if and when there will be an agreement, the enthusiasm was in the people to accept it, even if it's painful one. Once it puts an end to the conflict, I believe we'll take the Knesset with us and if not, we will know what to do.

KESSEL: Mr. Sharon had charged that at Camp David, Mr. Barak was ready to give the Palestinians almost everything without getting anything in return.

Mr. Barak resisted constant heckling, saying he would look the Israeli people directly in the eye and, he insisted, gain their support for a peace accord, should it materialize.

Though he survived, Mr. Barak heads only a small minority government, with a support of barely a third of the Knesset, after three religious and hawkish parties quit his coalition on the eve of his departure for Camp David. He has yet to woo them back.

The chaotic state of Israeli politics remains a problematic backdrop for the ongoing U.S. orchestrated peace efforts. But after this week, the Knesset goes into a three-month recess.

(on camera): Though the unruly political situation is likely to persist through the summer recess, Mr. Barak does have three months now to pursue his peace agenda and to seek to bring it to a successful conclusion without being hindered by the domestic political maneuvering.

Jerrold Kessel, CNN, Jerusalem.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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