International Papers

Barak and Roll

A fissure in Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s ruling coalition Wednesday led Israeli newspapers as the Orthodox Shas movement and two other coalition parties voted to dissolve the Knesset and call new elections. (Three hearings must be held before the measure becomes law, however.) Despite the split, none of the renegade parties declared any intention to leave the government, although the Jerusalem Post reported Thursday that Barak would soon call a Cabinet meeting and fire the six ministers who voted for early elections.

Before the vote, Ha’aretz published an editorial attacking Shas for its threat to vote with the opposition if Barak would not support its demands for a state bailout of the bankrupt Orthodox educational system. “Within the coalition, support for the … bill rests solely on a chance conjunction of political circumstances and sectoral interests. It does not reflect the mood of a general public that can generate little enthusiasm for being dragged into a new election campaign at this point.” The editorial also deemed the vote premature: “The government has not fulfilled its mission. After very successfully keeping his promise to withdraw from Lebanon, Barak is nearing the hour of decision in the talks with Palestinians on the final settlement for the territories. At the same time, there are increased signals from Damascus that the Syrians are seeking a way to revive their dialogue with Israel.” The Jerusalem Post claimed that Shas holds the advantage: “The patently over-confident and ever-disgruntled rising force in Israeli politics can still twist Barak’s arm to shower it with political booty, ranging from expanded budgets for its education system to assorted political offices for its hacks, in return for ‘unwavering loyalty’ to the prime minister’s peace-process agenda.”

An editorial in Thursday’s Ha’aretz expressed dismay at the coalition apostates: “Without a commitment to elementary discipline in votes on the very existence of the government, there is no meaning at all to the number of factions and Knesset members who are listed as being part of the coalition. The ease with which ministers and deputy ministers raise their hands to vote against the prime minister testifies that they do not support his policy and his agenda.” It concluded, “The main lesson to be drawn from the vote on the dissolution of the Knesset is that the time is approaching when the prime minister will have to choose [between] a broad and paralyzed government, which will perpetuate the stagnation of the peace process and comply with ultra-Orthodox extortion, or a narrower government, which will suffer from all the disadvantages of a narrow government and find it hard to ensure parliamentary backing for the peace process and the improvement of the values and administrative procedures of the public service.”

The Jerusalem Post recommended that Barak “should do what every good commander does when facing unforeseen obstacles in the field: adjust his tactics. If there is a chance to make his coalition function, it lies in ending one-man rule. … Barak must share decision-making power. To do so may seem risky in terms of leaks and losing room to maneuver, but it strengthens Israel’s negotiating position and increases the legitimacy of decisions once taken.” An editorial comment in Wednesday’s Financial Times agreed that the prime minister should amend his leadership approach. It said the “secretive style” of the former military commander has made consensus elusive. “This may have helped execute the pull-out from south Lebanon, but more generally, Mr Barak’s reluctance to include coalition partners in other policymaking areas has bred mistrust.”

British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook called for an international embargo on the sale of diamonds from Sierra Leone Tuesday to defund the Revolutionary United Front rebels waging the country’s devastating civil war. The Financial Times summarized Cook’s position: “The answer, according to the British government and others, is to ban the sale of diamonds from rebel-held areas, arm and train government forces so they can take control of the mining region, and issue certificates declaring bona fide diamonds that have come from mines outside the conflict zone.” The British press noted the difficulty of enforcing the ban given diamonds’ portability and value, and reminded readers of a similarly ineffective diamond embargo in Angola. A leader in the Times called diamonds “a war’s best friend.” It said that diamonds from Angola, Sierra Leone, and the Democratic Republic of Congo “have funded and prolonged wars that have crippled their infrastructure and killed and maimed thousands of their citizens. The lure of these deadly gems has corrupted governments, poisoned democracy and so perverted a trade that the sparkling stones now have the taint of death about them.”

The FT was skeptical about the embargo: “Ensuring that there is an efficient trading system and an end to smuggling to neighbouring Liberia requires not just an embargo, but a functioning government, an honest and efficient police force, the rule of law and, above all, political stability.” A Guardian  opinion piece asserted that a boycott would harm “blameless Botswana and Bombay in India, a cutting centre employing 800,000 people, far harder than the warlords of Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sierra Leone.” Admitting there was a small risk that European consumers might accidentally purchase “conflict gems,” the column concluded, “[T]he truly war-averse jewellery buyer may prefer to look elsewhere. Pearls, the vast majority of which originate in conflict-free Japan, seem to fit the bill.”

An editorial in the Times of India turns its attention from fixed international cricket matches to the corruption of America’s game: The ball is juiced! Not quite mastering the lingo, the Times maintains that “baseball fans are increasingly dismayed by reports that home run scores may be artificially boosted, all the better to pull in the crowds and rake in the profits. In an eerie echo of the sharp disappointment felt by millions of cricket buffs closer [to] home, America’s baseball crowds have begun to question a thrilling innings [sic] and sure batting technique.”