JERUSALEM (Jun. 18)
Deputy Premier and Education Minister Yitzhak Navon, former President of Israel, has clashed with Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin over Navon’s contention that there was a causal relationship between Israel’s prisoner exchange deal with a Palestinian terrorist group last month and the current hijack-hostage crisis in Beirut.
Navon, like Rabin a leader in the Labor Party, maintained in an Army Radio interview today that Israel’s release on May 20 of 1,150 convicted Palestinian terrorists in exchange for three Israeli soldiers captured in Lebanon and held by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, a Damascus-based terrorist group headed by Ahmed Jibril, may “logically have encouraged” the hijack of a TWA airliner by Lebanese Shiite terrorists last Friday.
Rabin, who was a central figure in the prisoner exchange negotiations, rebutted Navon’s contention. He told the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Security Committee today that there have been nine aircraft hijacks perpetrated by Shiite gunmen since March, 1982, so there could be no causal relationship between the latest hijack and the Jibril deal.
NAVON OPPOSED EXCHANGE
Navon was the only member of the 10-man inner Cabinet–five Labor and five Likud ministers — who opposed the prisoner exchange. He said the government “ought to have had the moral strength to tell the families (of the three captured Israeli soldiers) that there is a line beyond which we could not go. “According to Navon, the prisoner exchange “warped our criteria.”
But Navon hinted that his position might be different if and when the Cabinet is called upon to decide whether to release more than 600 Shiite guerrillas captured in Lebanon and presently held in the Atlit detention camp near Haifa in exchange for some 40 Ameri- can airline passengers being held hostage by the hijackers in Beirut. This is the primary demand of the hijackers.
Navon said if there were “direct approaches” the Cabinet would weigh them, “taking into account the specific facts in the case. “The approaches would have to be made by the U.S., however. Israel would not act without an American request, Navon said.
The U.S. has made no such request of Israel so for and the Reagan Administration has stressed that it will not ask Israel for any concessions to the hijackers. Rabin told the Knesset committee that Israel is sticking to its official position of non-involvement in the hijack crisis since it has received no requests from the U.S. or the International Red Cross with respect to the hijackers’ demands. He noted that the hijackers “address” their demands to Washington.
Navon’s view that last month’s prisoner exchange was a contributory factor in the hijacking is shared by a growing number of Israelis. More and more Israelis of all political persuasions are now maintaining that the lopsided prisoner exchange was one of the worst mistakes Israel ever made and will have grave consequences in the future.
SHAMIR TRYING TO SHIFT BLAME ON LABOR
Although the exchange deal was implemented by the Labor-Likud national unity coalition government, Likud leader Yitzhak Shamir, Deputy Premier and Foreign Minister in that government, is now trying to place the onus on his Labor partners. At a meeting yesterday with leaders of the religious party, Morasha, Shamir said “perhaps the government went too far,” adding that had Likud been the sole governing party of Israel, the prisoner exchange would not have taken place.
Laborites, for their part, contend that it was the Likud government, headed by Shamir, that contracted the basic principles of the exchange before the unity government took office last September and there was little choice but to go through with the deal.
Specifically, Labor claims that the Likud government agreed not to “veto” the names of any Palestinian terrorists submitted by Jibril, who he wanted released in return for the three Israeli soldiers he was holding in Damascus. The Likud government also agreed that the terrorists, once freed, could return to their homes in the West Bank, Gaza Strip or even in Israel if they had been legal residents at the time of their arrests, the Laborites say.
As a result, terrorists serving life sentences for murder were freed and about 600 of them elected to return to their homes in Israel or the administered territories.
SHIITE SITUATION DIFFERENT
The situation with the Shiite prisoners at Atlit is different. They are not terrorists but guerrillas captured in Lebanon where they were attacking Israeli troops in the process of withdrawing. They were not tried or convicted of any crimes. It was in fact, Israel’s intention to release them once the withdrawal of the Israel Defense Force from south Lebanon was completed.
The Israelis say they would have been freed by now had it not been for the tense situation that developed in the south Lebanon security zone last week after the Israel-backed South Lebanon Army (SLA) detained 21 Finnish soldiers of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). The soldiers have since been released.