Against a hail of criticism from the opposition, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin opened the summer session of the Knesset this week with a rousing declaration of faith in peace over terror.
Rabin’s speech, delivered on Monday to the sounds of heckling usually absent on such an occasion, focused on what he called his “government’s determined peace policy.”
This policy, he said, was the only one possible in light of the fact that “Israel has for 27 years dominated another people that wants nothing to do with us. For 27 years we have ruled over 1,800,000 people who wake every morning full of hatred towards us.”
Describing Israeli-Arab relations over the past several decades, Rabin added that hatred was inevitable when one nation lorded it over another.
Both sides, said the prime minister, had paid a very heavy price for this hatred, particularly since the start of the intifada, or Palestinian uprising, in December 1987.
In the ensuing violence, he said, 219 Israelis and more than 2,100 Arabs have been killed. He added that nearly 8,000 Israelis and 19,000 Arabs had been wounded since the intifada’s start.
The terror attacks of recent months had been frightful, Rabin said, but there had been far worse incidents in the past.
Defending his government’s policies against the repeated onslaughts of the Likud and other opposition parties, Rabin alluded to the 46 people who had died in a bus hijacking on the Coastal Road in 1978.
“Did anyone say the government of (Likud Prime Minister) Menachem Begin bore the blood of our people on its hands?” he asked.
“Did anyone demand that it resign?” he added, referring to the chants of rightwing demonstrators heard immediately after each recent terror attack.
Implementation of the self-rule accord in the Gaza Strip and West Bank town of Jericho would provide the acid test of the ability of Israelis and Palestinians to live side by side in peace, said Rabin, who said he believed that a final agreement on implementation would be signed soon.
Rabin, who holds the defense portfolio as well, added, “As defense minister, I will be more than relieved not to have to send our soldiers into the midst of the 1 million who live in Gaza.”
Touching on future negotiations with Syria, Lebanon and Jordan, the prime minister stressed that “the price of total withdrawal” that the Begin government had paid for peace with Egypt when Israel began handing over the Sinai in 1979 “will not be paid again. There will be a referendum,” he promised, “before any substantial withdrawal from the Golan.”
Repeating a charge he made last week, Rabin used the occasion to criticize Jordan for providing a safe haven for members of the Islamic fundamentalist Hamas movement. Hamas, a bitter opponent of the peace initiatives between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, has been behind many of the recent terror attacks against Israelis.
Alluding to the high concentration of Hamas operatives in Jordan, Rabin said, “the Jordanian security authorities are aware of this, we are convinced. Yet they have allowed the Hamas to continue operating.
“We have therefore seen fit to warn Jordan that we expect the king to act against the Hamas murderers who will attempt to bring down his regime as well,” the prime minister said.
At the Knesset session, Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu reminded Rabin of his promise last summer, when Israel and the PLO had reached a tentative accord in Oslo, that an era of peace had dawned.
Instead, Netanyahu said, “we live in anxiety and fear in every town and settlement. The PLO has reneged on all its promises and is even in collusion with Hamas.
“Your peace train is running off the rails, blowing up in your face and you will go down in history as the man responsible for the creation of a Palestinian army of terrorists and the establishment of a Palestinian state,” said the Likud leader.
When challenged by Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and others to offer an alternative to the government’s peace policy, Netanyahu said, “We believe in strengthening Israel,” in adding “more and yet more settlements, and bringing in aliyah.”