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ISRAEL

The Art of Distraction Is on Politicians' Minds

March 09, 1997|Yossi Melman | Yossi Melman, a journalist for the Daily Ha'aretz specializes in intelligence and terror affairs. He is author of "The Master Terrorist: The True Story Behind Abu Nidal" (Avon)

It is, however, highly unlikely that Netanyahu's government will be voted out of office. All his Cabinet ministers and coalition partners know perfectly well that he is responsible for returning them to power last July. The Israeli prime minister holds great powers and, unlike his predecessors, is less dependent on party politics and coalition blackmail, in part because he is now directly elected. Even Begin and his rebels acknowledge they do not regard Labor as an alternative to Netanyahu.

Arafat, too, can do very little to stop the Har Homa project. In a way, he, personally, and the Palestinian Authority, collectively, have become hostages of the phased-in peace process. The Israeli prime minister and his hard-line ministers, like Gens. Ariel Sharon and Rafael Eitan, have made it clear that, this time, they would not tolerate a new eruption of violence from the Palestinian side.

Last September, the inexperienced Netanyahu and Ehud Olmert, the mayor of Jerusalem, ordered the opening of an ancient underground tunnel near the Old City walls. The Palestinians, accusing the Jewish government of striving to weaken the structures of their mosques on Mount Temple, rioted. Israeli soldiers and Palestinian policemen exchanged gunfire; 60 people died and hundreds were injured in the clashes. Despite his denials, Israeli intelligence concluded that Arafat personally masterminded the bloody confrontation.

But Arafat realizes that any renewal of violence would halt the next phase of Israeli redeployment. Consequently, the Palestinians will likely settle for a demonstration and civic protest just short of uncontrolled chaos.*

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