JERUSALEM (Apr. 14)
A special Knesset session called by both the Likud and Labor factions to address the Kosovo crisis this week quickly spiraled into a sharp domestic political debate between the right and left-wing camps.
Former Labor Prime Minister Shimon Peres set off the sparks when he lashed out against the mixed messages conveyed by Israel over the NATO offensive against the Serbs.
The Israeli government, while providing humanitarian assistance, was deemed slow in supporting the U.S.-led NATO operation. At the same time, Israeli Foreign Minister Ariel Sharon was in Moscow this week, as Russia was opposing the NATO campaign.
“For the first time after the Nazi Holocaust, when the world does not stand by, we do not know what to say?” Peres said. “We say one thing and then its opposite? What is happening here, the government does not know with whom to side: it is not clear? And the Americans, delicately ask, `What are you doing, have you lost your minds?’” Peres said.
He later turned to the Israeli-Palestinian issue, equating far right-wing Moledet Knesset member Rehavam Ze’evi’s advocacy of an Arab “transfer” to ethnic cleansing.
“Whoever does not want ethnic cleansing, do not create an ethnic jumble. What is being done in the settlements is an ethnic jumble. This is the truth,” he said, adding: “We will not know how to get out of it. There is the Oslo way, and the Kosovo way.”
While Peres’ remarks prompted objections from the floor, Minister Silvan Shalom attempted from the podium to focus the debate on the humanitarian aspect of Israel’s response to the Kosovo crisis.
Shalom announced that Israel would be ready to accept more refugees if the need arose. More than 100 Kosovar Albanian refugees arrived in Israel on Monday.
At the conclusion of the debate, three separate, and in some ways contradictory resolutions, were adopted:
A joint Meretz-Labor resolution expressed unequivocal support for the American stand and the NATO operation, while calling for sensitivity to the refugee crisis;
A Likud resolution also empathized with the refugees but took issue with Peres’ remarks about ethnic cleansing; and
A resolution submitted by Moledet’s Ze’evi called on Israel to maintain a neutral policy regarding the crisis.