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Eban Speaks out Against Beatings, the Occupation and ‘ugly Ideas’

Former Foreign Minister Abba Eban, in a slashing attack on the government’s policies in the administered territories, warned Wednesday night that the continued occupation, not external threats, pose the greatest danger to Israel in its 40th year.

“Israel has never been stronger, more secure against external assault. The major peril that faces us comes from within ourselves,” from the “folly” of trying to control the territories, Eban declared in an address to an emergency conference of the New Israel Fund at the YMCA in Jerusalem.

The New Israel Fund is an umbrella organization of some 40 Jewish and Arab groups promoting peace, coexistence and religious pluralism in Israel.

Eban, a Labor Party member who chairs the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, said, “I cannot disguise the grief with which I have followed events. We have come to a very low point when the image of Israel — albeit not totally accurate — is that of a club being wielded by an Israeli soldier, face-to-face with a Palestinian civilian.”

The occupation can only be maintained through force and a belief in the superiority of one people over another, ideas alien to Jewish tradition, Eban said. “If we want to maintain our rule, we have to give up prospects of peace, of a majority Jewish state, of normal international relations and of psychological health.”

WON’T SAY HE WANTS RABIN TO QUIT

Eban, regarded by some as the nation’s “elder statesman,” did not call outright for the resignation of fellow Laborite Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin, author of the Israel Defense Force’s “iron fist” policy in the territories.

But asked if he thought Rabin should quit, Eban told reporters after the meeting, “If I was going to ask him to resign, I would not say it in the YMCA.” Nevertheless, “there must be a change in policy and rhetoric,” he said.

In a statement to the Jerusalem Post last Sunday, Eban denounced the defense minister’s “angry rhetoric and the wretched baton he waves.”

He blasted Rabin’s policy of curfews and beatings for Palestinian demonstrators. “It is an insult to intellect and morality alike to create the illusion that the beating of rioters will restore calm,” Eban told the Post.

In his YMCA speech, Eban warned that “The air of Israel is alive today with ugly ideas which once were marginal, on the outward lunatic fringe, and which are now creeping more and more toward the center.”

“The occupation now weighs more heavily on Israel than it does upon the Palestinians,” Eban said. “Deadlock, occupation hang around our necks like a millstone. We should liberate ourselves from them within conditions compatible to our security. It would be a service to Israel.”

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