Will Labour's coalition bring change in Israel?

THE RESULT of the general election in Israel, which saw Ehud Barak defeat Binyamin Netanyahu, has been hailed as a fresh start and a chance for peace. Any decent person will be glad that Netanyahu has lost. He is a vicious right winger elected three years ago on a promise to smash Palestinian resistance and make no compromises. Under his leadership the peace process with the Palestinians virtually ended. Instead Netanyahu urged on more settlements of Arab land and more repression of anyone who protested.

But Barak will not carry out a fundamentally different approach. A key issue is whether the Palestinians, driven from Israel in 1948, should now be given back their land and whether they should have their own state. Netanyahu's iron refusal to make concessions meant that he offered only 10 percent of historic Palestine for an eventually autonomous Palestinian area on the West Bank. Barak's alternative is to offer just 13 percent of the land.

Just like Netanyahu, Barak is not willing to discuss the question of Arab rights in Jerusalem and intends to keep most of the settlements which have grabbed land from the Palestinians. Barak did not even stand as a candidate of the Labour Party which he leads. Instead he constructed a One Israel coalition which made major concessions to more right wing forces. His election campaign made much play of the fact that he is Israel's most decorated soldier and a former army chief of staff.

The lack of progress under the peace process is fuelling bitter hatred among the Palestinians. Barak has played upon the disillusion with Netanyahu among Israelis and managed to capture the vote of 12 percent of the Israeli population who are Arabs. But he offers no way forward.