Knesset Opposition and Settlers Up in Arms over Peace Agreement

Israel’s tentative agreement with the Palestinians on a plan for self-rule in the administered territories has provoked storms of protest by members of the Knesset opposition and by right-wing demonstrators throughout the country.

Police officials braced themselves for civil disturbances, including mass demonstrations by the political right and possible terrorist attacks by groups opposed to the peace process.

In the Knesset, the ruling coalition and the opposition parties agreed Monday that if Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin presents a draft of the agreement with the Palestinians to the Knesset next week, the government will have to face a motion of no confidence presented by opposition factions.

Coalition members of the Knesset House Committee agreed that since an accord of historic significance was involved, the government was bound to seek the legislature’s confidence.

The Knesset interrupted its summer recess to convene Monday, and the debate on the proposed agreement with the Palestinians was stormy.

Opposition members were fierce in their criticism of the government and dramatic in their predictions of disaster if the agreement becomes a reality.

Benjamin Netanyahu, leader of the opposition Likud party, blasted Rabin, saying he was betraying and endangering the Israeli people. He said the agreement would create a “mini-Libya” and a “mini-Teheran” in Israel’s back yard.

Netanyahu likened Rabin to former British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, who tried to appease Adolf Hitler by allowing the Nazis to annex part of Czechoslovakia.

Another member of Likud, Knesset member Yehoshua Matza, went so far as to say that the party should incite the public to rebel against the plan.

Appearing before the Knesset, Rabin publicly admitted for the first time that Israel had negotiated the agreement on self-rule with Palestinians living outside the territories.

Israeli leaders had publicly maintained that they would only negotiate with Palestinians residing within the territories. But in recent weeks, reports repeatedly surfaced of high-level meetings between Israeli officials and PLO representatives.

Defending the preliminary agreement with the Palestinians, Rabin told the Knesset that now is the time for Israel to take a risk for peace.

He said that the agreement that had been reached would not harm the security of the state or the Jewish settlements.

RABIN CONGRATULATES PERES

Rabin also used the occasion to congratulate Foreign Minister Shimon Peres for his achievements in the recent negotiations with senior PLO official Mahmoud Abbas in Oslo.

It was during the Oslo talks, which were held in secret, that the details of the preliminary agreement were worked out.

Rabin also rejected what he said was the hypocrisy of the Likud attack on the agreement.

He reminded the opposition that it was Likud Prime Minister Menachem Begin who surrendered “every square inch” of Sinai during the negotiations that resulted in a peace treaty with Egypt.

Peres also addressed the Knesset in defense of the agreement, saying it would not compromise Israel’s security and was in accordance with the Camp David accords.

He also ridiculed as absurd charges that a Palestinian police force in the autonomous zone would threaten Israel.

President Ezer Weizman spent Monday touring the country and calling on Israelis to focus on the positive aspects of the agreement.

“The human body has a left hand and a right hand,” he said on Israel Television. “When they work together,” they can accomplish things they cannot when they work alone, he said.

But throughout the country groups of demonstrators saw things differently.

On Sunday night, soldiers and police dispersed a group of settlers who attempted to establish a new settlement outside the West Bank town of Tekoah, near Bethlehem.

The settlers declared that this was merely the opening shot in their struggle against the government’s plans for an agreement with the Palestinians.

POLICE BRACE FOR UNREST

Earlier on Sunday, the Council of Jewish Settlements in Judea, Samaria and Gaza said it would intensify steps against the government to prevent an Israeli withdrawal from the territories.

A committee of rabbis in the territories meanwhile warned of civil strife.

In a public statement, the committee described the government’s moves as “crazy and dangerous,” adding that “the people will not be able to stand idle in the face of extreme treacherous acts against Eretz Yisrael. There will be war over Judea, Samaria and Gaza.”

Reacting to these and other threats, senior police commanders met Monday to discuss strategies for dealing with possible large-scale unrest.

Concerned about the same possibility, Labor Knesset member Hagai Meirom introduced a bill in the Knesset on Monday that would impose a four-year jail sentence on anyone “disrupting regular public life” in an effort to prevent the implementation of a peace agreement.

The bill would exclude demonstrations that had been approved in advance by the authorities.

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