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Publisher\Editor Don Canaan

                       Feb. 29, 1996 V4, #38
All the News the Big Guys Missed

Likud's Netanyahu: We'll be Tougher

By Al Pessin (VOA-Jerusalem)

Israel's conservative opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu took a jump in public opinion polls this week following Sunday's two suicide bombings by Palestinian militants. The bombings and the polls are drawing new attention to Netanyahu and his policies, with Israeli elections scheduled for May 29. Netanyahu laid out some key aspects of his policy during a meeting wednesday with Jerusalem's Foreign Press Association.

Israel's ruling Labor Party says the coming election is a referendum on the peace process, but Netanyahu says he would continue the peace process, although in a different way. He says the election is a referendum on what kind of peace process Israelis want, and on who they trust to deliver what he sees as the basic goals shared by Israelis of all political persuasions -- peace with security and with a united Jerusalem as their capital.

"This is what they want. Now the question is, who do they believe? And this will be, I think, the main question of the elections. It's a referendum on who will deliver peace with security, who will deliver peace with a united Jerusalem, who will deliver peace with the Jordan valley, that both sides say they will keep. And now the jury is out. The people will decide who they think will best deliver such a future for Israel."

That is where Israel's coming political campaign will get down to specifics of how to achieve the goals most Israelis share. The ruling Labor Party proposes more autonomy for the Palestinians, perhaps including the creation of a Palestinian state. But Netanyahu's Likud Party has always preferred a more limited Palestinian Autonomy, both in terms of territory and power. Netanyahu says he will be tougher in demanding that before any new agreements are negotiated or signed, the Palestinian Authority fulfill the commitments it has already made, particularly on security issues.

"One is the commitment to change the climate of opinion inside the Palestinian areas regarding peace with Israel. That means changing the covenant or nullifying the covenant calling for Israel's destruction, that means stopping hostile propaganda instead of allowing it. The second thing is the need to dismantle the Hamas and Islamic Jihad infrastructure. This means closing their headquarters, it means disarming their operatives, it means putting them outside the law, it means extraditing the jailed murderers that have not been extradited."

Those are some of the same steps the Israeli government has just demanded from the Palestinian Authority following the two suicide bombings last Sunday. But there is a difference: The government pledges the peace process will continue, even if there are difficulties. Netanyahu says he will hold further progress hostage to Palestinian compliance with existing agreements -- by his definition. And he says that in any case he will take more aggressive unilateral action to fight militants when necessary, and will not give up as much as the Labor Party would in the next and final round of negotiations.

That is an attractive proposition to many Israelis. But others warn that his approach does not offer enough to satisfy even the minimal political desires of most Palestinians. And they say a Netanyahu victory in may could result in less security, rather than more, by sparking another intifada -- another violent Palestinian uprising. Netanyahu rejects that analysis.

"The Palestinian Arabs, like most Arabs, are supremely realistic, and they tailor their real expectations -- not what they say, I'm not talking about bravado, I'm talking about real expectations. And I think that the return to the intifada is something they don't want. And something they shouldn't even think about from their interests, not only from ours."

Before Sunday's bombings, Netanyahu was 15 to 20 points behind Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres in public opinion polls. But one poll taken just after the bombings showed him pulling to within just a few percentage points. That may be a temporary reaction, but it is already making political commentators take his chances in the elections more seriously and pay more attention to his version of peace. And it may also result in a tougher approach on security issues, and fewer concessions at least in the short term, by Peres.

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