Cabinet Members Did Not Foresee Consequences of the Deportations

Now that Israel has offered a compromise on the Palestinians it deported to Lebanon, Cabinet ministers have come out openly with complaints they were never fully briefed in December about the original order’s likely consequences.

In mostly anonymous interviews in the Hebrew press, ministers talked about how the Cabinet did not foresee many of the problems that arose after Israel temporarily expelled 415 Moslem fundamentalists from the administered territories on Dec. 17.

Responding to pressure from the United Nations and aiming to save the peace process, Israel this week backed down and proposed to take back 100 deportees and shorten the term of exile for the others.

Explaining what went wrong, Health Minister Haim Ramon said Wednesday that the Cabinet did not expect Lebanon to bar entry to the activists, who were bused across the border from the Israeli-controlled security zone in Lebanon.

In the past, Israel has periodically deported Palestinians to Lebanon without problems, sometimes by dropping them north of the security zone by helicopter.

Lebanon was commonly regarded as too weak or too preoccupied with its own problems of internal instability to be able to block the practice.

“We did not know Lebanon is a state again. We thought of it as the Wild West,” Ramon said.

Lebanon’s refusal to take in the deportees resulted in their being stranded on a barren stretch of land between Israeli and Lebanese army lines. That unusual situation contributed to the international crisis which developed.

The newspaper Yediot Achronot quoted another minister as saying the Cabinet had not expected the U.N. Security Council to consider such strong action as sanctions in order to compel Israel to reverse the deportations.

The Cabinet had fully predicted international criticism, but reasoned that it would die out eventually, the minister said. The Cabinet did not even consider the possibility that the United States might refrain from using its Security Council veto in protection of Israel.

Cabinet officials also complained that a defiant Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin steamrolled the Dec. 17 decision through a shocked but obedient Cabinet, without bothering to genuinely solicit their advice or concerns.

Political insiders have criticized Rabin for his tendency to make decisions on his own without much consultation outside a handful of close advisers.

FUTURE MASS DEPORTATIONS POSSIBLE

At a Cabinet meeting last week, Rabin displayed typical impatience with regard to hearing opposing views when he sought to silence Justice Minister David Libai.

“We’ve heard enough of you now on the radio,” Rabin said, telling other ministers to talk with Libai privately if they wished to hear his opinions.

Libai was the only minister not to support the deportations in December, abstaining at the Cabinet vote.

The decision to partially reverse the deportations was accepted unanimously by the Cabinet, although Housing Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer warned that the deportees would reject the offer and that Palestinians in the territories would see the move as a sign of Israeli weakness.

Rabin this week defended the compromise proposal against the right-wing opposition parties, who accused him of surrendering completely to Arab and international pressure.

The prime minister also said Wednesday that Israel would maintain the right to resort to mass expulsions in the future should the need arise.

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres predicted that the Arabs would eventually accept the deal and return to the peace negotiations, since many Arab parties had informally approved the idea in behind-the-scenes diplomacy.

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