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Barak’s popularity collapses, polls show

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JERUSALEM — Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak's popularity rating has collapsed along with his governing coalition and his peace summit with the Palestinians, opinion polls showed today.

A survey published in the Yedioth Ahronoth daily found that 63 percent of 509 people polled by the Dahaf Institute viewed Barak as a bad prime minister. It was his lowest popularity rating since assuming office 13 months ago.

In an interview in the Maariv newspaper, a combative Barak pledged to persevere in what he called "the battle for peace."

"We will continue to fight to attain what the public elected us to achieve," Barak was quoted as saying.

"I don't know for sure if we will achieve a result, but we will do our utmost to obtain the best agreement which we will present to the people for their ratification."

Plagued by coalition defections that have destroyed his governing majority, Barak has 90 days of parliamentary recess to try to kick-start peace negotiations with the Palestinians following the failure of last month's Camp David summit.

Political analysts have predicted that Barak, leader of the One Israel alliance, will have no choice but to go to elections within several months with or without a peace deal on divisive issues such as the future of Jerusalem and a Palestinian state.

Barak has said he will try in the coming weeks to build a new coalition.

Israeli media reports said today Barak was attempting to woo back the ultra-Orthodox Shas party.

Barak's office denied reports he had made a new proposal to the linchpin party. Yedioth Ahronoth quoted Shas officials as saying Barak had offered five cabinet posts.

"Contrary to reports, no offer has been made and no discussions have been held with any faction although the prime minister does not rule out a dialogue with various parties," an official statement said.

"An overwhelming majority of Israelis are saying that Barak has failed as prime minister and has failed in running the country," Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel's biggest-selling newspaper, said in commentary accompanying the Dahaf Institute poll.

The newspaper noted that no other Israeli prime minister had ever suffered such a swift drop in popularity and that only several months ago 54 percent of Israelis said they were satisfied with Barak's performance.

It attributed the drop to "an accumulation of disappointments" and "public opinion that...will not forgive arrogance, isolationism and an unwillingness to admit mistakes."

A Gallup poll published in Maariv on Friday indicated that if elections were held now, Barak would receive 41 percent of the vote against 35 percent for Ariel Sharon, leader of the main opposition Likud party.

But both the Gallup survey and Yedioth Ahronoth's Dahaf poll showed that former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who gave up the Likud leadership after his 1999 election loss to Barak, could come out ahead in a new contest.

Gallup gave Netanyahu 43 percent of the vote to Barak's 40 percent. The Dahaf poll put the margin at 46 percent to 42 percent.

Both polls found the number of undecided voters ranged from 12 percent to 17 percent. The margin of error in the two surveys, conducted this week, was 4.5 percent.