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Rabin Seeks to Calm Fears About Peace Pact : Israel: Prime minister returns to an apprehensive public. He says accord will strengthen nation's security.


JERUSALEM — Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, returning home from the Washington signing of the accords on Palestinian self-government, on Wednesday began selling the agreement to an apprehensive nation.

Against the backdrop of the Jewish New Year observances, Rabin urged Israelis to give the accords with the Palestinians a chance, promising that if successfully implemented they would strengthen Israel's security.

"There is a chance for the beginning of the end to the wars that have raged between Israel and the Palestinians," Rabin said in a message to the country's armed forces. "We are now standing at a crossroads that will allow us to start a new, different history in the state of Israel."

Although little "state of the nation" messages are traditional here on the occasions of major Jewish holidays, Rabin sought on Wednesday to address widespread concern over the accords and to broaden popular support for them in advance of a debate and a vote of confidence scheduled for Tuesday in the Knesset, Israel's Parliament.

With the right-wing opposition on the attack and his own governing coalition in danger of cracking apart, Rabin is trying to allay people's fears about security, and to force his critics to justify their stand.

"There are those who are trying to paint the future of the Israeli state in apocalyptic colors because of the Palestinians," Rabin said in an interview on state-run Israel Radio. "But there is nothing more wrong than describing the Palestinians as a threat to the existence of Israel."

Rabin has said that if he fails to win the support of a majority of the Knesset's Jewish members, he will consider seeking national approval of the accord in a voter referendum and thus renew his mandate for further negotiations.

With the six votes of the ultra-religious Shas party now in doubt after the resignation of its leader, Arye Deri, as interior minister following charges of corruption, Rabin has 54 of the 57 votes he would need from the Knesset's Jewish members for a majority.

The remaining three votes would have to come from members of Shas or one of the other ultra-Orthodox religious parties. Rabin actually has an overall majority in the Knesset without Shas, but this would require him to depend on endorsement of the accords by the Knesset's Israeli Arabs.

Recent opinion polls suggest that Rabin does have a narrow but clear majority among Jews throughout the country for Palestinian autonomy in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank town of Jericho.

But a referendum, which might be held in conjunction with municipal elections in November, could complicate and even delay the negotiations on implementing the autonomy agreement.

Looking very tired after his 58-hour journey to Washington and then to the Moroccan capital of Rabat, Rabin said that Israelis and Palestinians will have to overcome their differences and unify their approaches to peace. But he added: "There is a great chance that this next year will be a turning point in peace.

"Until today they were our enemies, but they can be partners," Rabin said of the Palestinians.

Directly challenging right-wing assertions that the accords will create "a terrorist state" next to Israel's heartland and endanger the Jewish state, Rabin said:

"Palestinian terrorism has never been, is not now and will not be a threat in the future to the existence of the state of Israel. It is, to be sure, a troublesome threat that injures and is painful and leads to the loss of life of Israeli soldiers and citizens, but it does not and cannot threaten Israel's existence."

The accord with the Palestinians, Rabin reminded Israelis, opens up the possibility of peace treaties and normal relations with neighboring Jordan and Lebanon as well.

He also spoke of peace with Syria, for which there had been great hope just weeks ago. Rabin bluntly declared that President Hafez Assad still has to demonstrate a desire for peace by halting support of radical groups opposed to the agreement with the PLO and by allowing the Lebanese army, which Assad controls, to move against the Iranian-backed guerrillas of Hezbollah, the fundamentalist Party of God, in southern Lebanon.

"While one hand is as if extended in peace," Rabin said of Assad, "the other hand opens fire on you."

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