Israelis Defend Handling of Unrest and Call on Arabs to Make Peace

Two high-level Israeli Cabinet members defended their government’s handling of the recent unrest in the administered territories and, in separate appearances on Sunday morning television talk shows, called on Arab nations to join the peace process to determine the future of those areas.

Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin, speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” observed that Israel could have annexed the West Bank and Gaza Strip years ago, but, instead of unilaterally determining the fate of those territories, has left them open for future negotiation.

“Obviously today it’s clear, more than ever before, that only a political, peaceful, diplomatic settlement” can resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said on the CBS program “Face the Nation.”

Peres also played down the sympathy strike and protests staged by Arabs living in Israel on Dec. 21. The foreign minister said he met recently with a group of Israeli Arabs Who told him that violence would accomplish nothing.

“They, like us, understand that we should not turn to riots and hatred and violence, which will lead to nowhere,” he said.

Peres confirmed that he recently suggested that Israel demilitarize the Gaza Strip. “I do feel that one of the solutions for the future of those areas is demilitarization,” he said.

‘ACCIDENT, NOT POLICY’

Responding to U.S. criticism of Israel’s use of live ammunition to quell the riots, Peres said that Israeli soldiers are permitted to open fire only when their lives are in danger. “I see the use of live ammunition as an accident, not as a policy,” he emphasized.

He expressed regret over the deaths of some 22 Palestinian rioters, saying he feels “responsible for the safety of the Arab people” under Israeli jurisdiction.

Rabin, in his NBC appearance, however, rejected the idea of creating a special force to control riots, citing Israel’s limited resources. But he, too, said that Israeli soldiers are only authorized to use live ammunition when their lives are in danger.

Rabin also criticized parallels being drawn in the news media between the situations in Israel and South Africa. Noting that blacks are the overwhelming majority in South Africa, the defense minister pointed out that even if Israel annexed the territories and accorded “full civil rights” to all residents, Jews would still be in the majority, numbering 3 million, compared to 2 million Arabs.

Appearing on the same program as Rabin, former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Samuel Lewis criticized the State Department for issuing scolding statements on the unrest last week that went “right to the edge of being a mistake. No country likes to be lectured about how it keeps peace and order. And you react defensively.”

“And that is exactly what the Israelis are doing,” Lewis said. “They are blaming the press, they are blaming the foreign spokesmen, instead of focusing on what they can do about the issue.”

Lewis said the “best substantive approach” to peace that has yet been proposed was President Reagan’s September 1, 1982 plan that sets a high-level of autonomy for the territories. But he dismissed the possibility of a political solution before the U.S. presidential elections and Israel’s next round of elections, both in November 1988.

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