Debate over Handling of Unrest Moves into the Political Arena
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Debate over Handling of Unrest Moves into the Political Arena

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The Palestinian uprising, now nearing the end of its seventh month, has become a major issue in Israel’s rapidly heating election campaign.

The very fact it has lasted this long gives Likud a weapon against Labor. The two parties are still joined in a coalition government and theoretically are equally responsible for dealing with the problem.

But the security forces, which bear the daily brunt of the “intifada” are headed by Laborites: Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who sets policy for the Israel Defense Force, and Haim Barlev, minister of police.

The IDF, the only non-political public institution in Israel, therefore has become enmeshed in the political struggle. It is being used as a whipping boy by Likud ministers, notably Ariel Sharon.

Sharon, a former defense minister who now serves as minister of commerce and industry, repeated at Sunday’s Cabinet meeting his longstanding charge that the IDF is inept.

A case in point, he said, was the continued, undisturbed operation of “the political center” of the Palestine Liberation Organization in East Jerusalem.

Sharon referred to a number of Arab public institutions, mainly the Arabic dailies published in East Jerusalem, that are oriented toward the PLO.

“Not only the Temple Mount is not in our hands, neither is East Jerusalem,” Sharon told reporters.


He spoke as unrest mounted in East Jerusalem on the eve of the 21st anniversary of its annexation by Israel. The underground leadership of the uprising already has distributed leaflets exhorting the local residents to engage in disorders on Tuesday, the anniversary date.

Likud ministers want to know how these inflammatory “communiques” can be circulated under the noses of the IDF and police.

Sharon found his opening to attack Labor when the IDF chief of staff, Gen Dan Shomron, briefed the Cabinet on the situation Sunday.

He reported the number of gasoline bomb attacks fell to 16 last week, compared to 36 the previous week. There were also fewer stonethrowing incidents in the administered territories and fewer attacks on civilians.

Shamron attributed the improvement to tough measures by the IDF. As long as he recited statistics, the ministers listened politely. But when the chief of staff suggested that only political and economic measures, not military force, can end the uprising, he came under fierce attack by Likud ministers.

The IDF now faces a dilemma. On one hand, it is engaged in a public relations campaign, mainly overseas, to prove it is not the brutal and ruthless army depicted by the foreign news media to be making war on civilians.

But at home, it is under increasing attack by the right for being too soft on the Palestinians.

The critics do not blame the IDF itself, since it is popular with the public. Their cry is that the soldiers’ hands are tied by orders from the political echelons — meaning Labor.

The split between right and left is therefore no longer limited to the issue of territorial compromise. The more immediate dispute is how to cope with the uprising.


There is considerable irony here, because the tough policies of the IDF — beatings, deportations, demolition of homes, administrative detention — were instituted by Rabin himself, and he has been sharply criticized for them at home and abroad.

Rabin, visiting the United States this week, told Jewish leaders in New York that Israel will continue to respond to Palestinian violence with force and will not negotiate with the PLO.

But at the same time, Rabin has been maintaining a dialogue with local Palestinian leaders “of all political camps.” He said in New York that Israel was ready to deal “with responsible Palestinians who renounce terror and accept U.N. Resolutions 242 and 338,” which recognize Israel’s right to exist.

Those “responsible Palestinians” are not standing in line to renounce terror. But the defense estblishment is well aware that further aggravation of the situation in the territories will limit the number of potential partners for dialogue.

As for the “intifada,” it is not over, but there is a visible weariness among Palestinians. They are sick of the hardships and financial losses. And they have been unable to translate their nearly 7-month-old struggle against Israeli rule into political gains.

But while the uprising has not escalated in magnitude, there are some new twists. Attempts to export it into Israel proper, by way of arson, have been partially successful.

Even here, though, the Palestinian underground has run into resistance from Israeli Arabs who refuse to set fire to fields and forests. The Council of Arab Mayors has denounced arson.

Mayor Mohammad Ghanayim of Sakhnin village, near Acre, said Israeli Arabs are prepared to set up fire-watch partrols and staff lookout posts to prevent fires from breaking out in the “Arab and Jewish sectors.”

The renewed tension in East Jerusalem is the most serious problem at the moment. There the “infifada” enjoys widespread Arab support. Although East Jerusalem was annexed by Israel, its Arab residents are not Israeli citizens. In terms of the uprising, East Jerusalem is for all practical purposes part and parcel of the administered territories.

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