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U.S. Move Divides Israelis; New Elections Are Possible

Israel’s official expression of regret Thursday over the U.S. decision to begin a “substantive dialogue” with the Palestine Liberation Organization does not reflect a politically united country.

In fact, divisions over the U.S. move could set back the latest Labor-Likud efforts to establish a broad-based coalition government. Some observers are predicting speedy new elections.

While Israelis were clearly stunned by the unexpected news from Washington, reactions ranged from bitterness on the far right to jubilation on the far left.

There were differences too in the reactions of Labor and Likud politicians.

Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir’s media spokesman, Avi Pazner, insisted that the reversal of American policy would not change Israel’s determination never to deal with the PLO, under any circumstances.

Israel Television reported Thursday that the Likud leader himself was in an angry, depressed mood all day and had turned down scores of interview requests.

Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, the Labor Party leader, commented, “This is a sad day for all of us.” He added, however, that “sadness alone is no policy,” and urged a new Israeli initiative.

Ezer Weizman, a Laborite minister without portfolio, called the American move “a new beginning (that) could lead to a happy ending.”

The leftist Mapam and Citizens Rights Movement, like Labor doves, hailed the PLO’s “new moderation.”

COALITION TALKS COULD SUFFER

On the right, there was anger and resentment toward the United States.

A group of Jewish settlers from the West Bank pitched tents outside Shamir’s residence Thursday night. They declared a hunger strike to protest what they called the trend toward territorial concessions.

Some pundits believe the Labor-Likud coalition talks have suffered, just when the two parties seemed to be nearing an understanding.

Those circles say there is a growing feeling in Likud, and especially in Shamir’s coterie, that the possible advantages of a coalition partnership with Labor have been weakened by the American decision.

Until now, they say, Shamir wanted a broad government to fight off the PLO “diplomatic offensive.”

But now that PLO chief Yasir Arafat’s offensive has succeeded, Shamir does not want to contend with Laborite doves in his government.

Those very doves, including Weizman, Knesset members Ora Namir, Yossi Beilin and others, urged their party Thursday night to think twice about a new unity government with Likud.

Israel Television said Shamir would meet privately with Peres late Thursday night “to resolve the fate of the coalition talks, one way or the other.”

But Shamir’s alternative, for a narrow Likud-led regime in partnership with the religious and right-wing parties, also seemed to be fading.

Rabbi Eliezer Schach, spiritual mentor of Degel HaTorah, and a strong influence in Shas, both ultra-Orthodox parties needed by Shamir, was reported Thursday to have spoken in favor of the American decision to talk to the PLO. His grounds were said to be that the move would ultimately “save lives.”

Given that situation, some observers believe new Knesset elections to be imminent.

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