For the 100,000 Jewish settlers in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, June 23 is a date that will live in infamy. That was when Israeli voters abandoned the settlers’ champion, hard-line Likud Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, and all but relinquished the biblical lands of Judea, Samaria and Gaza to the Arabs. Last week, victorious Labour Party Leader Yitzhak Rabin, who will head the next government, reaffirmed his pledge to curb Jewish settlement in the occupied territories immediately and to grant nearly two million Palestinian residents self-rule within nine months. The shock among Jews in the West Bank was palpable. “We are against autonomy; it is a precursor to a Palestinian state,” said settlers’ council spokesman Bob Lang. “We will fight by every democratic
means possible that it should never happen.” Other settlers threatened to take up arms to frustrate Rabin’s plans. “We won’t let him return any part of the land of Israel,” said Benny Harkabi. “We will die for it.”
Still, Rabin enjoyed wide support for his landfor-peace policies. In the most clear-cut Israeli election result since 1973, Rabin’s Labour Party won 44 seats in the 120-member Knesset (parliament), overwhelming Shamir’s Likud Party, which took just 32 seats. Needing the backing of
only 17 members of allied parweek, a clearly shaken Shamir took great pains to appear imWashington-based Brookings administration is very pleased with the outcome. “They like Rabin because he can deliv-
er—he’s tough, analytical and he values relations with the United States,” he said. “And they feel that they can influence him.”
Rabin, 70, is an ironfisted former general who dumped Labour’s dovish image to broaden its appeal among security-conscious Israelis. But he is also a pragmatist who, unlike Shamir, is willing to return occupied Arab land to buy peace for the Jewish state. Reminding angry settlers of the unfulfilled 1978 Camp David accords, Rabin declared last week: “Israel as a state led by a Likud government took on itself a decision to establish a self-governing Palestinian entity as an interim arrangement. That’s what I intend to implement.” Still, Rabin said that he would continue settlement that he regards as necessary for security in the West Bank, in the Jordan Valley and on the Golan Heights. And, like Shamir, he pledged to make no concessions on Jerusalem as Israel’s indivisible capital or to permit Palestinian statehood.
In a bid to form a broad government, Rabin last week pubbcly appealed for more support— especially from rehgious groups that had backed Likud. The ultra-Orthodox United Tora and Shas parties, which together control 11 seats, generally support Labour’s plan to cede occupied Arab land. But Rabin will have a difficult task balancing the competing demands of potential coabtion partners. Leaders of Meretz, a 12-seat bloc of three leftist parties, accuse the ultra-Orthodox of being corrupt, saying that they back Likud or Labour only in return for state funding of religious schools and more laws for Jewish observance. For his part, Rabbi Eüezer Schach, the spiritual mentor of both ultra-Orthodox parties, accuses Israel’s secular majority of abandoning Judaism by ignoring the Sabbath day and rituals.
But Labour’s internal problems pale in comparison with those of Likud. After his party’s dismal showing last week, Defence Minister Moshe Arens, long considered Shamir’s political heir, unexpectedly announced that he was quitting politics. That opened up the possibihty of a bitter battle to succeed the 76-year-old Likud leader. Among the contenders are Foreign Minister David Levy, Deputy Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Ariel Sharon, the hawkish housing minister.
Labour’s victory promises not only new impetus to stalled Middle East peace talks, but also financial rewards for Israel. Analysts say that President George Bush will soon ask Congress to approve $12 billion in loan guarantees to help Israel absorb tens of thousands of immigrants from the former Soviet Union. The President had stalled the U.S. funding because of Shamir’s refusal to freeze Israeb settlements in the occupied territories—a policy that Bush called the greatest impediment to Arab-Israeli peace. Late last week, there were chilling reminders of how elusive that peace is: Palestinians stabbed two Israelis to death in Gaza and an Israeli soldier and three Palestinians died in a gunfight on the West Bank.
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