JERUSALEM (Sep. 23)
The Knesset’s approval of the historic Israeli-Palestinian accord on self-rule in the administered territories is being seen here as a vote of confidence in the government, as well as a mandate to pursue the peace process.
Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin made a similar assertion himself shortly after the Knesset vote, which took place Thursday.
After over 30 hours of emotionally charged debate, the Knesset approved by a vote of 61-50 the accord signed last week in Washington by Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization.
The vote of the 120-member Knesset included eight abstentions, with one member absent from the balloting.
Five of the abstentions and the one absentee were members of the ardently religious Shas party, whose spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, had instructed them not to vote against the “possibility of peace.”
Although Benjamin Netanyahu, leader of the opposition Likud party, had called on his party to stand firm against the accord, three Likud Knesset members broke ranks and abstained: Ronnie Milo, Meir Sheetrit and Assad Assad. Their action prompted calls by some Likud politicians that they be ousted from the party.
Rabin said after the vote that he was satisfied with the margin of victory and that it gave the government the confidence it needs to begin implementing the agreement.
He also made it clear that he still considered Shas a part of the governing coalition, despite its failure to endorse the accord. Shas has threatened to pull out of the government but has not yet done so.
Rabin criticized Likud, saying it had failed to show the same “attitude” that Labor had demonstrated when ratifying the 1978 accord with Egypt, when it was in the opposition and the prime minister was Menachem Begin of Likud.
Although that earlier vote had involved some painful decisions, said Rabin, “we said we would not be an obstacle to peace.”
OTHERS IN LIKUD AFRAID TO ABSTAIN
Likud Knesset member Eliyahu Ben-Elissar, former chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, warned that Thursday’s vote had in effect created a Palestinian state. He told Israel Radio it was a victory for the PLO and a defeat for Israel.
But Sheetrit of Likud said there were many in the party who wanted to vote for the agreement but did not do so for fear of political repercussions from within the party.
He warned that Likud would have to move away from the right and toward the center or risk losing its constituency.
The vote came following a fiery exchange of insults and accusations between Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, who was the last to speak before the vote was taken, and opponents of the agreement, who repeatedly interrupted him.
Peres’ fellow Labor Party members were brought to their feet in protest when Knesset member Uzi Landau of Likud went up to the foreign minister at the podium and began pointing his finger at Peres in anger.
Before Peres spoke, former Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir accused the government of weakening the country by returning it to its pre-1967 borders.
Former Foreign Minister David Levy said the government was leading the nation to bankruptcy by relinquishing its essential strategic assets.
Following the vote, Police Minister Moshe Shahal said the government would proceed quickly to implement the agreement.
PLO OFFICIAL WELCOMES THE VOTE
In Tunis, Yasser Abed Rabbo, head of the PLO’s information department, termed the Knesset vote a “positive step.”
During a telephone interview with Israel’s army radio, Rabbo expressed confidence that the percentage of Israelis supporting the accord was higher than the margin of victory achieved in the Knesset.
West Bank settlers disappointed with the outcome of the Knesset vote began a new round of demonstrations in the territories Thursday.
Settlers groups tried to fence off state-owned land near Beit El in northern Judea, and later in the day near Kiryat Arba in the south, to demonstrate their resolve to maintain Jewish sovereignty in the territories.
But the army soon evacuated the settlers in both incidents. At the Beit El confrontation, the army resorted to force to evacuate the settlers. In one incident, women soldiers were brought in to physically remove women settlers.
At the Kiryat Arba confrontation, the army detained 10 settlers, among them the local mayor, Zvi Katzover.
The results of a poll published Thursday indicate that a large majority of Palestinians in the territories support the Israeli-PLO accord.
The poll, sponsored by CNN and France 2 television and conducted among more than 1,500 Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, found that 68.6 percent support the agreement, while 27.8 percent voiced their opposition.
The poll also revealed that support for militant Islamic groups opposed to the accord is declining.