JERUSALEM (Jan. 18)
A month after Israel deported 415 Palestinians to Lebanon in an effort to break the back of the Islamic fundamentalist Hamas movement, the government is still struggling with the backlash caused by the temporary expulsions.
In the international arena, Egyptian Foreign Minister Amre Moussa visited Israel on Sunday and warned Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin that some Arab parties might back out of the Middle East peace talks if the crisis was not resolved.
Meanwhile, Israeli civil rights lawyers challenged the legality of the group deportation in a hearing Sunday before the High Court of Justice. The court deliberations Sunday represented a new development since previous hearings had concerned only secondary issues, such as attempts to delay the deportations or specific legal problems in individual cases.
Moussa’s warning came against the background of an announcement last week by the Palestine Liberation Organization that the Palestinian delegation to the peace talks would not renew discussions until a satisfactory settlement of the deportation crisis was reached.
Moussa undertook the one-day visit to Israel in order to meet with Rabin and stress the serious nature of the situation. The prime minister, however, refused to make any commitments in his meeting with Moussa.
GRADUAL RETURN PROPOSED
Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, on the other hand, said Israel was willing to take certain “humanitarian measures” to ease conditions for the Palestinians, who are stranded on a stretch of land in southern Lebanon between Israeli and Lebanese army checkpoints.
Moussa discussed several proposals with Rabin and Peres to defuse the crisis. One idea suggested by the Egyptians would have Israel allow a gradual return of the deportees. That scenario would grant the deportees their goal, but without giving Hamas an all-out victory and a surge in momentum that a simultaneous return would surely cause.
The Egyptian warning about the peace talks seemed to apply to both the multilateral negotiations, which are scheduled to resume next month, and the bilateral talks.
After emerging from his meeting with Moussa, Rabin said the bilateral talks were unlikely to resume until the end of March, when the Moslem fast month of Ramadan ends. Although Ramadan does not start until Feb. 24, talks would probably not start earlier since the new U.S. administration will need time to mold its Middle East policy.
The Egyptian warning contrasted with earlier announcements by Arab foreign ministers that Arab parties would not boycott the peace talks because of the deportations.
Observers here in Israel believed that Moussa’s comments were based on a reappraisal of the mood in the Arab world, particularly after the new series of blows suffered by Saddam Hussein.
Egypt reportedly believes that under the new circumstances, a renewal of the talks with no Israeli concessions on the deportees would be viewed by the Arab world as a further surrender in the face of external challenges.
In the High Court proceedings, Attorney General Yosef Harish vehemently defended the deportations, arguing on the government’s behalf.
Civil rights lawyers argued, among other points, that the deportations were illegal because the Palestinians were not allowed to appeal the deportations before they were escorted to Lebanon by the Israeli army.
INDIVIDUAL VS. STATE NEEDS
Harish said the government had not tried to bypass the legal system by its actions, but he also conceded: “The legal aspect is not everything. We face a serious danger if we see everything in legal terms.”
The question, he said, “is whether it is just to endanger the needs of the state because of the needs of the individual.”
The special panel of seven justices interrupted Harish frequently with questions regarding the procedure in which the deportations were carried out.
They also questioned Harish about whether the state had taken sufficient consideration of the situation before deciding upon the drastic measure of deporting 415 individuals.
The justices questioned, for example, how 16 of the Palestinians were deported by mistake and how 78 people who had been on the original list of deportees were not expelled in the end.
Harish merely responded that action’s aim was to “deport as many as possible” in the interest of breaking the backbone of the Hamas and Islamic Jihad movements.
The courtroom was packed with an audience that included a delegation of 120 Palestinian lawyers from Gaza, as well as Palestinian political leaders from Jerusalem, including Faisal Husseini, Ziyad Abu Ziyad and Hanna Siniora.
Parents of missing Israeli soldiers in Lebanon, along with representatives of the Association of Victims of Arab Terror, also attended the court session.
The court was expected to resume deliberations on the matter Wednesday.