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    Peace talks in doubt as Israel prepares for snap election

    28.10.2008 - 15:58 | Son Güncelleme:

    Israeli parliamentary parties on Tuesday started discussing a date for snap elections amid political turmoil that has left the Middle East peace process in limbo.

    Both Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni’s centrist Kadima party and the right-wing Likud party of hawkish former premier Benjamin Netanyahu, the two frontrunners for prime minister, favor holding elections as soon as possible.


    Senior Kadima MP Tzachi Hanegbi told military radio that February 3 would be a "good date"; while the head of Likud’s parliamentary bloc Gideon Saar said elections should be held "as soon as possible."


    President Shimon Peres formally initiated the election process on Monday after Livni failed to assemble a new government coalition.


    Livni, 50, was elected last month as Kadima leader and hopes to also take over as prime minister from Ehud Olmert, who stepped down in September over graft allegations but remains at the head of a transition government.


    MPs now have three weeks to agree on a date for the election, failing which parliament will be automatically dissolved and a vote held three months later in February 2009.


    Two Israeli ministers on Tuesday called for a freeze on already stalled talks with Syria and the Palestinians until a new government is sworn in.


    "(Negotiations) cannot advance during the election period with us and the United States," said Interior Minister and Kadima MP Meir Sheetrit.


    "In the current political situation no agreement can be ratified by the transitional government and parliament. There can be no significant progress and the Syrians

    and the Palestinians understand this," he told public radio.


    National Infrastructure Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, a senior Labor Party member, said the interim government "cannot make strategic decisions affecting the existence of the state of Israel."


    "On security issues it must act, but as far as political issues are concerned it is better to wait for the results of the elections and the formation of the next government," the former defense minister told public radio.


    Israel and the Palestinians formally relauched peace talks at a U.S.-hosted conference in November 2007 with the goal of ending their decades-old conflict by the end of the year -- but the talks have made little visible progress.


    The White House nevertheless said Monday it would press ahead with efforts to secure a full peace agreement by the time President George W. Bush leaves office in January despite Israel’s political uncertainty.


    In May, Israel entered into indirect Turkish-brokered talks with Syria, reviving negotiations that had collapsed in 2000 over the fate of the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau captured by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War.


    Setting the tone conduct negotiations on Jerusalem, the capital of the Jewish people for the past three thousand years," he said in a speech to the Knesset, Israel’s parliament.


    "We will not return to the 1967 borders," he said, adding that the Golan Heights as well as the Jordan Valley and the Judean Desert in the occupied West Bank

    "will continue to serve as the state of Israel’s eastern security belt."


    An opinion poll published on Monday by Israel’s mass-selling Yediot Aharonot newspaper said if the vote were held today Kadima -- currently the largest party in parliament -- would win the most seats with Likud coming in a close second and the centre-left Labor a distant third.



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