Barak Victory Happy
News For US Peace Seekers
WASHINGTON (AFP) - The likely victory of Ehud Barak in Israeli elections Monday would be a much-needed boost to President Bill Clinton's quest for Mideast peace, analysts here said.
US officials had no comment early Monday, but there was little doubt a Barak victory would be greeted favorably by the US administration.
"The polls are still open so I will not comment on any part of it," Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said as the Labor leader appeared headed for a landslide over incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
"But," added Albright, "we want to see a comprehensive peace process move forward."
That's code for "Bring on Barak!" here in Washington, which has been frustrated by Netanyahu's intransigence in the stalled peace talks, according to American University expert Laura Drake.
"A Barak victory will open the door again for movement in the peace process which will always make the United States happy," said Drake.
"Netanyahu was really against the peace process at all. There was no flexibility, he just wanted to stop the train from moving completely," she said.
Barak, on the other hand, wants to wrap up negotiations with the Palestinians within a year, open talks with the Syrians, pull out of Lebanon and may even consider a Palestinian state.
And that, the White House believes, is just the recipe for success in the Middle East so anxiously sought by Clinton, whose peacemaker legacy is suffering from the Kosovo catastrophe.
"It's not personal," said Drake.
"It's just that the US interest is having the Arabs and Israelis work things out and anyone who prevents that -- if an Israeli leader is being what the US sees as obstinate -- then the working relations on a day to day basis are going to be tense," she said.
Clinton was visibly furious at Netanyahu last year during the Wye River negotiations, when the right-wing prime minister nearly backed out of a deal minutes before the signing ceremony demanding the release of convicted spy Jonathan Pollard.
In January, Netanyahu chided Barak for refusing to sign an appeal to Clinton on the release.
And three of Clinton's political advisors -- including James Carville -- are working for Barak and have been credited with focussing his campaign with military precision.
The White House, of course, insists the advisors are free agents and have no affiliation with the US administration.
"These people need to make a living and they're free to do so," said spokesman Mike Hammer, adding "no way" would he comment on the likely outcome of the Israeli election.
Clinton is anxious to stay out of this one after his implicit endorsement of Shimon Peres in 1996 met with indignation by Israeli voters and may have contributed to his defeat.
But in addition to his flexibility in the Mideast negotiations, Barak sees Clinton's idol, slain prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, as a mentor.
And though he is considered more accommodating than Netanyahu, the military man who sneaked into Lebanon to assassinate three senior PLO officials in 1973, is tough enough to satisfy the huge Israeli-American population.
"I wouldn't say that he is a dove, but he is in a way a successor to Yitzhak Rabin and nobody ever called him a dove either," said Drake.