Settlers Stage Large Sit-in, Claiming Rabin Has No Mandate on Concessions

As a new round of Middle East peace talks begins in Washington, a public debate has emerged here over the authority and mandate of the current government to make territorial concessions as part of a land-for-peace settlement.

“Rabin, you have no mandate” has become the motto of settlers and supporters who are staging a sit-in outside the Knesset and opposite the offices of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

In a show of strength, hundreds of protestors have set up tents, huts, telephone and fax lines, as well as improvised offices of the municipal and regional councils in the territories.

The encampment has sent a clear signal to Rabin and the Knesset that the protestors intend to stay where they are for a long time.

The demonstrators protested against territorial concessions at a rally Monday addressed by their old champion, the semi-retired former Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir.

Shamir spoke of the “great fear that this government of calamity will surprise us” in the peace talks “and we shall suddenly find ourselves with borders which do away with our security.”

Shamir’s handling of the peace process, when he led the government at the head of the Likud party, has been commended by the present Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu for presenting a tough stance to the Arabs.

Netanyahu has complained bitterly that Rabin is giving away too much and not getting anything in return.

The demonstration by settlers at the Rose Garden has as its main message a claim that Rabin lacks authority from the people to give up land under Israeli control, particularly the Golan Heights.

A giant “Rabin, you have no mandate” was smeared overnight on the helicopter landing site near the Knesset, much to the dismay of the Knesset guards. Posters with the same slogan were placed all over the small park.

NETANYAHU ECHOES PROTESTORS

In a Knesset debate during another failed attempt to topple the coalition, Netanyahu echoed the protesters’ message, warning Rabin against making concessions.

And so despite the lack of any indication in the peace talks that territorial concessions would take place in the near future, the issue has come to the forefront of public debate.

Yoel Markus, a respected columnist, suggested Tuesday in Ha’aretz that the settlers might be out in force now because they may be aware of secret behind-the-scene negotiations with the Arabs, which could bear fruit earlier than expected.

“It is not coincidence that the settlers are getting ready for a violent struggle and have already come out in demonstrations,” wrote Markus.

It remains to be seen what kind of support the political right enjoys and whether it is powerful enough to influence the peace process and block the implementation of decisions once they are made.

A demonstration held here several months ago by leaders of all the opposition parties failed to attract the masses. It ended up as a relatively small rally and was seen as a weak show of force.

But in recent weeks, Rabin has lost public support for a variety of reasons and opinion polls are smiling at the new Likud leader, Netanyahu.

Emuna Yaron, a right-wing columnist, wrote this week in Ma’ariv that the “national camp” was stronger and more unified than ever. She warned the government not to underestimate the movement’s strength and the weight of the 120,000 Jewish residents in the territories.

Speaking on behalf of the government this week in the Knesset, Health Minister Haim Ramon indicated that the government was not underestimating the settlers, particularly their disruptive capabilites.

He warned that by overemphasizing the slogan that the Rabin government had no mandate for territorial concessions, political leaders such as Netanyahu were delegitimizing the legally elected government of Israel.

“If the government has no mandate,” said Ramon, “then people are led to believe that the government takes illegal action, and one must therefore act against it by all means, also illegal means.”

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