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News Analysis: Demand for Tough Security Measures Tempered by U.S. Push for ‘gestures’

March 28, 1991
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The Israeli government is facing seemingly irreconcilable pressures as it attempts to deal with the rapidly deteriorating security situation in the administered territories and Israel proper.

While its own increasingly vocal right wing is demanding tough new measures against Palestinian troublemakers, the Bush administration in Washington is urging Israel ever more forcefully to extend “confidence-building” gestures to the Palestinians to advance the peace process.

The policy-making Inner Cabinet met for three hours Wednesday to discuss possible new measures, but it reached no decisions.

Defense Minister Moshe Arens and Police Minister Ronni Milo were instructed to draft a joint set of proposals to deal with the latest spate of Arab violence against Jews, to be submitted to the Inner Cabinet for consideration at its next session.

The ministers met Wednesday under the additional strain of Jewish settler rage at the ambush murder of a 30-year-old settler, Yair Mendelsohn, whose car was riddled with bullets Tuesday night near Ramallah, in the West Bank.

That outrage followed a wave of knife attacks by Arabs on Jews in Israel proper, which has resulted in five fatalities this month alone.

The most recent of the fatal attacks occurred March 21, when Mordechai Reuchman, a 70-year-old furniture dealer in Hadera, was stabbed to death in his shop.


The spate of violence has prompted demands for tough new security measures from right-wing Cabinet ministers.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Yuval Ne’eman of Tehiya and Rehavam Ze’evi of the Moledet party demanded the immediate expulsion of 1,000 Palestinians suspected of violence, along with their families and all known leaders of the intifada.

Ne’eman, who is minister of science and energy, referred specifically to Faisal Husseini, the East Jerusalem activist who headed a delegation of 10 local Palestinian leaders at a March 12 meeting in Jerusalem with U.S. Secretary of State James Baker.

Ze’evi, who holds no portfolio, delivered a scathing attack on government security policy. His party’s platform favors expelling the 1.75 million Palestinians from the territories.

Housing Minister Ariel Sharon of Likud took the occasion to lambast Defense Ministry policy, with the clear implication that Arens should resign.

The outspoken Sharon, who was himself forced to resign as defense minister in 1982 during the Lebanon war, has made no secret that he aspires to Arens’ job.

Arens, meanwhile, is reported not to see eye-to-eye with Police Minister Milo on how to protect Israeli citizens inside their own country.

Milo has proposed that all unmarried Palestinian males under 30 be barred from working in or entering Israel proper from the administered territories.

According to Milo, most of the assailants in the recent knife attacks fit that category. He has the backing of Police Inspector General Ya’acov Terner.

But the Defense Ministry and other security agencies oppose the idea.

IDF officers propose a drastic tightening of controls at crossing-points on the “Green Line” and a concomitant crackdown on Palestinians working inside Israel without the requisite IDF-issued passes. They would also crack down on Israeli employers who persist in ignoring the requirement for work passes.

But restrictions that would emphasize the separateness of Israel and the territories make many coalition politicians uncomfortable, particularly the Greater Israel advocates, who believe the West Bank and Gaza Strip are as much part of Israel as Tel Aviv.


Israel’s internal conflict is overshadowed by a larger one involving the United States, its primary source of political and economic support, which has a Middle East agenda of its own.

Shamir irritated Washington when he dismissed Faisal Husseini and his colleagues, the group received by Baker, as creatures of the Palestine Liberation Organization unfit to talk to Israel.

That triggered an angry private responses from the Bush administration. The American attitude was very much in evidence, according to Israeli media reports of a conversation Tuesday between Baker and the Israeli ambassador, Zalman Shoval.

According to the reports, Baker and his aides indicated they saw the Palestinian group as suitable future negotiators with both the United States and Israel.

The media reports said Baker is pushing, through Shoval, for significant Israeli “confidence-building steps” toward the Palestinians –precisely the reverse of the kind of steps that the Cabinet ministers were contemplating at their meeting here Wednesday.

Shoval, on home leave for Passover, was non-committal. The Israeli media nevertheless quoted U.S. officials in Washington to the effect that Baker’s meeting with him was one of the opening shots in the administration’s diplomatic effort to revive the peace process in the wake of the Gulf war.

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