Opposition Accuses Barak, Clinton of Trying to 'Buy Off' Israeli Voters

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:07 PM EDT

Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Israeli opposition leaders say Prime Minister Ehud Barak and President Clinton are trying to tip Israeli public opinion in favor of withdrawing from the Golan Heights by getting Congress to approve huge sums of financial aid, and they believe Barak is once again relying on Clinton advisor James Carville to help him win support for the move.

Any deal Barak makes with the Syrians involving the handover of territory must first receive an absolute majority of 61 out of 120 votes in the Knesset and it must also win approval in a public referendum.

Barak could thus conceivably make a deal that could never be enacted because it is not ratified by both the Knesset and the people.

When Barak and Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk Shara went into a first round of talks last month, analysts said Israelis were split down the middle over a withdrawal from the Golan Heights.

Now opposition Likud party leader Ariel Sharon says Clinton and Barak are not playing fair.

At a meeting of the party's lawmakers Tuesday, Sharon charged that the U.S. administration is trying to buy off Israeli voters by getting Congress to approve billions of dollars in financial aid.

He said opinion polls commissioned by Likud and Barak's Labor party show that an $18 billion cash supplement from the United States would increase Barak's chances of winning a referendum by 10 percent.

An official in Sharon's office told CNSNews.com the information had come from "American sources."

However, a report in The Jerusalem Post said party officials understood the information was provided by the offices of American political strategist James Carville.

According to the report, Sharon alleged that the public relations firm that deals with Clinton's image also is attending to Barak's affairs ahead of a referendum.

American political strategists played a key role in the last Israeli election, and it was no secret that Clinton sent Carville to promote Barak's campaign. Now it appears Carville is back on the campaign trail again, this time to convince Israelis to trade the Golan Heights for a peace treaty.

Tal Ziberstein, head of the Labor party's information campaign, said he was not giving interviews because there is no agreement with the Syrians yet, and thus no campaign.

However, a source in the Labor party told CNSNews.com any "campaign" would not focus on withdrawal from the Golan Heights but on promoting the peace process.

Senior Likud party member Moshe Arens said the shift toward dependence on American aid was troubling. Arens said he was "disturbed by the tremendous emphasis that our prime minister puts on assistance from the United States."

"We've never had anything like that before," Arens told Israel Radio.

"Israel has for 51 years been an independent country, a proud and independent country that has received some aid from the United States but basically [has been] dependent on itself and only on itself.

"That's the way its got to be done in the future, otherwise Israel's future's going to be very bleak," he said.