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Israeli Divide Over Peace Efforts Grows

Reaction: Hard-liners and conciliators both see week's violence as proof that their approach to Palestinians is right.


JERUSALEM — Israelis have been deeply divided over their peacemaking with the Palestinians from the outset, and this week's lethal armed combat between Israel's soldiers and Palestinian police did nothing to bring them together.

Supporters of the bilateral agreements to trade land for peace are firmer than ever in their convictions, shaking a finger at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's hard-line approach to the Palestinians and saying, "See, we told you this would never work."

Hard-line opponents also are saying, "I told you so."

On the second and worst day so far of the battles that have claimed dozens of Israeli and Palestinian casualties, Health Minister Tzachi Hanegbi declared: "This is a hard day not only because of the terrible casualties but also because our worst predictions are coming true. In the Knesset [Israel's parliament], in the streets, everywhere we cried, 'Do not give them [the Palestinian police] guns.' "

During his election campaign in May, Netanyahu attacked the accords signed by the previous Labor government and promised to deliver "peace with security" instead of peace with suicide bombings, such as those committed by the militant Muslim group Hamas that killed more than 60 people in Israel in February and March.

A divided Israel put Netanyahu in office with a bare majority of votes--29,000 more than the man he ousted, Shimon Peres.

"This matter of 'secure peace,' " Peres said after combat broke out. "It has gone bankrupt. How is the situation today any safer than it was before?"


Amid outcries that the Palestinians were renewing their intifada, or rebellion, against Israeli occupation, Peres said: "I am not sure we are in danger of returning to the intifada in its previous image. There is a danger of an intifada of a much harsher nature."

The Palestinians exploded after Netanyahu went ahead with the excavation in Jerusalem's Old City of an archeological tunnel that runs on the edge of the Temple Mount--one of the holiest sites in Islam. The prime minister said he had simply carried out a decision approved by the previous government.

But Peres countered of Netanyahu and his government: "They should stop telling tales that it was my decision to open the tunnel. . . . The fact remains that I decided not to open it."

Labor leaders say that, while the tunnel may have prompted Palestinian rioting, there were deeper Palestinian frustrations: The Netanyahu government, Labor insists, must accept responsibility for its failure to honor the peace accords.

Palestinians are particularly incensed that the government has not redeployed its troops from the West Bank city of Hebron and has approved new construction for Jewish settlements in areas the Palestinians claim.


Yossi Beilin, an Israeli architect of the peace accords, asserted that Netanyahu has mistaken meetings with Arafat for action.

"The blunt statements, the conduct, the humiliations of the Palestinians and their leadership, and the thought that the very holding of a meeting with them provides a solution to all problems . . . all of these things contributed to what was already a very hard situation between the Palestinians and us," Beilin said.

He defended granting weapons to Palestinian police under the peace accords, saying it was an idea born in the Camp David peace accords negotiated under Likud Prime Minister Menachem Begin.

But hard-liners say they cannot forgive the fact that Palestinian police turned on their partners in the Israeli army. Certainly, they say, this is proof that the Israeli government cannot redeploy its troops from Hebron, where 450 Jews live in the heart of more than 100,000 Palestinians.

Certainly, though, says the other half of Israel, this is proof the government must go forward and redeploy its troops from Hebron. According to this line of reasoning, Netanyahu will have to do what Peres would have done all along.

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