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2 Rallies in Tel Aviv Highlight Israeli Divide over Peace Talks

Two mass rallies in Tel Aviv, held 36 hours apart but both directly related to this week’s Middle East peace conference in Madrid, presented stark evidence of the dichotomy in Israeli society.

The demonstration Saturday night at the Malchei Yisrael Square outside City Hall was organized by Peace Now and leftist Knesset factions to urge the Israeli delegation in Madrid to make concessions for peace.

On Monday night, a right-wing nationalist rally was held at the same locale, under the slogan of “Peace for Peace.” It was intended to stiffen Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir’s resolve to make no concessions.

Commentators noted differences between the two demonstrations more fundamental than the predictable tone and content of the speeches.

Speakers at the right-wing rally included coalition Cabinet ministers and spokesmen for West Bank settlement movements. The Saturday night gathering was addressed by opposition Knesset members, kibbutz leaders, intellectuals and leading figures in the arts.

At the Peace Now rally, there was a sea of banners announcing that “Israel Wants Peace” and only a sprinkling of Israeli flags. Very few men at that rally wore kipot (skullcaps), indicating a minimal Orthodox presence.

Those attending the nationalist rally were predominately kipot-wearing men waving a sea of oversized Israeli flags.

Virtually no weapons were seen at the Peace Now rally. At the right-wing rally, firearms were the rule, not only revolvers strapped to waists but light machine guns slung over shoulders.

Crowd estimates at the right-wing demonstration ranged between 50,000 to 80,000, notably larger than the 30,000 to 35,000 estimated by police to have attended the Peace Now rally.

But the higher turnout Monday night was attributed at least in part to the terrorist bus ambush in the West Bank only hours before, which killed two Jewish settlers and wounded five. People who had not originally planned to attend the rally added on to the crowd already in place as news of the attack was publicized.

Responsibility for the ambush was claimed by George Habash’s Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, one of the radical Palestinian groups that has vowed to sabotage the peace parley.

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