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50,000 Israelis Protest Accord, Assail Rabin

September 08, 1993|MICHAEL PARKS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

JERUSALEM — Angered by Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's agreement with the Palestine Liberation Organization on Palestinian self-government, tens of thousands of Israelis demonstrated Tuesday night outside his office, denouncing him as a traitor and demanding new elections.

"Do you all trust Rabin?" asked former Defense Minister Ariel Sharon.

"No!" the crowd roared back.

The demonstrators marched on Rabin's office and, turned back by ranks of helmeted riot police, began an all-night protest in the government quarter of Jerusalem and threatened to "paralyze" the capital today.

Police estimated the crowd at 50,000, but organizers said hundreds of busloads of demonstrators from around the country were prevented from entering the city.

"This is not a demonstration--it is going in the direction of a revolt, a revolt of the people who are telling the prime minister to go no further," said Uri Ariel, the leader of the settlers movement Yesha. "We can and will bring this government down."

Before dawn today, as the demonstrators dwindled to a few thousand, police used water cannons and batons to disperse those who remained on the square in front of the prime minister's office. According to police, 24 protesters and seven police officers were injured in the scuffles, and 30 people were arrested.

Benjamin Netanyahu, chairman of the opposition Likud Party, pledged to fight the agreement both in and outside the Knesset, Israel's Parliament.

"Anyone who thinks this struggle is lost should come to Jerusalem," he told the demonstrators. "This is the opening round in an unprecedented struggle."

Netanyahu accused Rabin of "heaping lie upon lie" in presenting the accord with the Palestinians as the key to peace in the Middle East.

"The greatest lie of them all is that this dangerous agreement will bring peace," he said. "It will not bring peace, it will bring more terror, more terror, more terror. It is laying the groundwork for the next war."

Although Likud and its allies in the opposition do not have the votes to block the accord when it is submitted to the Knesset, Netanyahu said they will make the move difficult and politically costly.

"This demonstration justifies our demand not to sign any treaty with the PLO before bringing it in early elections to the people for a decision," said Tzachi Hanegbi, a Likud member of the Knesset, underscoring the opposition demand for new parliamentary elections or at least a referendum on the autonomy plan.

The protest appeared smaller, even at the 50,000 estimated by police, than the rally held in Tel Aviv on Saturday to back the treaty. The crowd at that event was also put at 50,000. A small army of police, more than 2,500, kept Tuesday's rally orderly after fears that the demonstrators' anger could bring violence.

One banner declared, "Death to Traitors." And some extremists belonging to ultranationalist movements have warned they will fight the agreement and are even ready to battle Israeli forces. "Peace with Arafat is war with God," another placard declared, referring to PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat.

Likud, which is planning weeks of protests in alliance with the settlers movement and several religious groups, is staking its political future on opposition to Palestinian autonomy, in a gamble that fears over security will outweigh hopes for peace.

Although the proposed agreement leaves Israeli settlements intact, in both the West Bank and Gaza Strip, right-wing critics fear that they will be uprooted and that Palestinian self-government will eventually bring a Palestinian state, which in turn would threaten Israel's existence.

"The land of Israel is ours, and it will never belong to another nation," Zvi Hendel, the chairman of the regional council of Israeli settlements in Gaza, told the rally. "The demonstrations will continue, and (Rabin) will be obliged to listen to the nation."

With Rabin's government and the PLO committed to the plan and just awaiting an agreement on mutual recognition between Israel and the PLO before it can be signed, chances for a defeat of the initiative appeared slight.

Foreign Minister Shimon Peres dismissed the opposition campaign as one founded on ignorance, since the accord has not yet been published although the Knesset is expected to start debating it Thursday.

"The demonstrations result from the fact that they haven't read the material," Peres said. "They are putting things into the agreement that are not there and ignoring things that are in it."

Times researcher Dianna M. Cahn in Jerusalem also reported for this story.

* DEPORTEES OPPOSE PLAN: Palestinian exiles in Lebanon vowed to fight peace pact. A6

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