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Israeli Rightists Vow to Take to the Streets

September 05, 1993|MICHAEL PARKS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

JERUSALEM — Stunned by Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's secret agreement with the Palestine Liberation Organization on Palestinian self-government, Israel's rightist opposition plans a campaign of mass protests leading to open civil disobedience to try to block the accord.

"This country can't stomach hundreds and thousands of people being arrested and going to jail in protests against this so-called peace," said Yehiel Leiter, a leader of the Israeli settler movement Yesha in the occupied West Bank. "That, however, is the only way left to us. . . . We will launch a campaign of civil disobedience, massive and nonviolent, to block implementation of this agreement, to change government policy and, if possible, to bring this government down."

A coalition of opposition parties, settlers movements, religious groups and ultra-Zionist groups will launch the effort Tuesday with a demonstration, which they said will paralyze the government quarter in Jerusalem.

That will be followed, they said, by strikes at Israeli settlements throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip, protests by thousands of schoolchildren bused to the capital and other demonstrations that organizers pledge will spread through every Israeli city and town in the next week.

A rapid escalation in the protests, planners said, will bring the government into growing confrontations with demonstrators who will force their own arrests "until Israel's jails are full of Jews," as one organizer put it.

The aim, said Tzachi Hanegbi, an opposition Likud Party member of the Knesset, Israel's Parliament, will be "to make the government understand that the price it will pay for the aggressive implementation of this plan (for Palestinian autonomy) will be greater than going to elections."

Yehoshua Matza, another Likud member of Parliament, described it as "a call to rebellion" but said he was not urging people to take up arms against the government but to go into the streets in such massive numbers that the country becomes virtually ungovernable.

The opposition objects to the agreement on two main points:

* Handing over the Gaza Strip and the West Bank town of Jericho to their Palestinian residents will immediately endanger Israeli security, they say, and the terms for self-government will lead inevitably to a Palestinian state, led by the PLO, which is seen as an even greater threat.

* Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza Strip will put at serious risk the lives of the 120,000 Israeli settlers there and probably mean the end of the more than 140 communities they have established on lands to which they feel they have a biblical claim.

A further issue, the opposition asserts, is the government's need to secure voter approval, either in new elections or a referendum, for such fundamental policy changes. "It is inconceivable that an issue this essential to the continuation of the nation of Israel would not be determined by the people in democratic elections," said Moshe Hager-Lau of Emunim, an ultra-Zionist group backing Israeli settlement of the West Bank.

Implementation of the agreement "will bring about a general war in the Middle East that would cause the destruction of Israel," Hager-Lau said. "Those of us who live in the territories will be the ones carrying the yoke of coexistence with the Arabs . . . and we are already confronted daily with rocks in the streets."

Although the anger on the right over the agreement is strong, prospects of such a bitter struggle against the accord also alarm many Israelis, who fear the division of the nation at a crucial point in its history.

President Ezer Weizman appealed to Benjamin Netanyahu, the Likud Party chairman, for moderation to preserve national unity. Israel's chief rabbis said it would be wrong to sharpen political differences when the country needs to reach a consensus. And a newspaper commentator asked, "Will we make peace with the Arabs only to go to war among ourselves?"

The PLO accord, concluded in months of secret negotiations, caught the whole opposition by surprise. Although there were strong indications both that the Rabin government was negotiating with the PLO and that there was progress, the agreement stunned the right in its scope and swiftness.

"It was a 'done deal,' " said Zalman Shoval, the Likud spokesman on foreign affairs and the former Israeli ambassador to Washington. "And it won a lot of initial, although probably surface, support. We all want peace, and there were elements in this agreement that were definitely appealing--dangerously so, we believe."

Although Netanyahu and other opposition leaders quickly rejected the accord as gravely endangering Israeli security and certain to lead to a Palestinian state, the right had no real alternative strategy. Likud itself had begun the peace talks 22 months earlier, and it differed with Rabin's Labor Party on terms for a settlement, not on Palestinian autonomy.

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