Israel's Peres walks fine line in effort to stem Arab-Jewish tension
Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres is walking a fine line. On one side is the need for swift government action to halt the recent escalation of Arab-Jewish tensions in Israel.
On the other is his determination not to endanger the Mideast peace process by alienating moderate Arabs who may view a crackdown on terrorist attacks as aimed solely at Palestinians.
The package of stiff antiterrorism measures passed by parliament Sunday is unlikely to hurt the possibility of negotiations with the Jordanians and Palestinians over the future of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, analysts say.
``It'll certainly cloud the atmospherics,'' says one source close to recent diplomatic moves. ``But if there's a will, the parties involved can get over the obstacle.''
Sunday's measures, plus the recent banning of racist parties from running in elections, were designed to combat a recent wave of Arab attacks on Jews and stem a surge of anti-Arab feeling among Jews. The wave began 10 days ago when two Jewish teachers were found murdered; anti-Arab riots followed. Violence erupted again last week after a third Jew was killed in the West Bank town of Nablus.
Military authorities said yesterday they had imposed a curfew on a Palestinian refugee camp on the West Bank after several border policemen riding in a car were injured by a fire bomb thrown from the camp.
Despite some Israeli officials' belief that the anti-terrorism measures would stem anti-Jewish violence, many observers were skeptical about the long-term effect of the measures.
The Cabinet decision allows for the deportation of ``persons who constitute a security risk'' and reinstates the policy of administrative detention -- arrest for an indefinite period by military order. Both practices had been largely discontinued in 1979 in response to sharp criticism of the arbitrary nature of the measures.
A ministerial committee was charged with reviewing proposals to revive capital punishment for terrorists convicted of brutal murder.
The package of measures appeared to be a compromise between the two main partners in the ``national unity'' coalition Cabinet -- the centrist Labor and right-wing Likud parties. The week-long debate between Likud and Labor centered on the effects of the crackdown on the peace process.
Likud ministers Yitzhak Shamir and Moshe Arens called for a mandatory death penalty for brutal crimes. Cabinet Minister Ariel Sharon demanded preemptive military strikes against Palestine Liberation Organization offices in Jordan and Tunisia.
Peres and Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin of Labor rejected the death penalty and attacks on the PLO. Peres warned against taking steps that would appear to be a declaration of war on Jordan.
Some observers say the preoccupation with security concerns ignores the underlying causes of the violence and that therefore the measures are futile.
The measures ``don't deal with why people behave the way they do,'' says Raja Shehadeh, head of the West Bank chapter of the International Commission of Jurists. ``We've been through such measures before, but ultimately the fundamental reality will have to be addressed.''
The ``fundamental reality'' of protracted conflict and anti-Arab extremism in Israel prompted passage of the anti-racism bill. The legislation was designed to block the political path of Rabbi Meir Kahane, a member of parliament who advocates expulsion of all Arabs from Israel and the occupied territories.
The bill empowered the parliamentary elections committee to disqualify any party that incites racism or denies the democratic character of Israel. A balancing clause also banned parties denying Israel's existence as a Jewish state. The anti-racism bill received overwhelming support from all members of parliament. But while it appeared to ensure that Rabbi Kahane would not run in the next elections, there were fears that his ideology would have a lingering effect on the political system.
The popularity of Kahane in some Israeli circles prompted Yoel Marcus of the respected Haaretz newspaper to warn this week that other right-wing parties would be impelled ``to be more Kahane than Kahane'' to prevent a drain of votes to the extreme right.
A recent Haaretz poll showed that 10 percent of Likud's voters in the last elections would now vote for Kahane.