Dayan showing new power in Israeli politics

Moshe Dayan, Israel's most enigmatic politician, is edging back into the limelight. And, in his first parliamentary foray since he resigned as foreign minister last Oct. 21, he nearly upset the coalition government of Prime Minister Menachem Begin.

Mr. Dayan -- the former Labor Party defense minister who broke party discipline to serve as the Likud Party government's foreign minister, and who eventually resigned to become a independent member of the Knesset (parliament) -- chose to do battle over a highly controversial issue.

The issue was the decision to place a Jewish settlement in the heart of a heavily Arab sector of the occupied West Bank.

Typically, Mr. Dayan himself abstained from voting on what turned out to be a procedural question of whether his objections to government policy on Jewish settlements should be referred to committee or stricken from the agenda.

The ruling coalition got only a narrow 42-40 vote on his initiative on the new settlement.

This performance was enough to prompt a senior foreign diplomatic observer to comment that "Dayan is bound to make a comeback." Referring to a recent chat with Mr. Dayan, the Diplomat noted that the colorful wartime general is physically fit and capable of seeking a new position in Israel's future leadership.

Some of Mr. Dayan's comments about the practices used to promote new West Bank settlements struck analysts here as worthy of serious consideration. They certainly do not relabel Mr. Dayan as an opponent of Jewish settlements, in principle, but they do cast him as an advocate of reason and political sensitivity to the local Palestinians, if not of outright moderation.

The main Dayan point was that the decision to clear remote Jebel Kebir, which overlooks the West Bank Arab city of Nablus, as an alternative to nearby Elon Moreh, whose evacuation was ordered by the Supreme Court of Israel, is a tactical error.

He rejected the argument that, like Elon Moreh, Jebel Kebir (now known as Har Kabir in Hebrew) is strategically important due to its command of a major highway junction near Nablus.

He also assailed the Begin government's tendency to placate the militant Gush Emunim (faithful bloc) organization, which demanded the establishment of Elon Moreh in the first place.

Instead, the ex-foreign minister called for an overall settlement plan that would apply to the West Bank and Gaza Strip occupied areas as a whole, the object of which would be to live alongside Arabs, "but not to dispossess them."

Mr. Dayan has been an original thinker and an innovator throughout his political career.

His concurrent argument that the chances are nil for agreement with Egyptians on an autonomy scheme for the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and that the Palestinians are bound to reject even the most liberal formula anyway, is coupled with an unusual proposal:

He suggests that Israel act unilaterally by introducing autonomy without necessarily having Egyptian, American, or Palestinian approval, and that it simultaneously withdraw or abolish the military government over these areas.

His position in based on experience as defense minister, when he decided to open the Jordan River bridges to traffic in both directions (to and from the Jordanian east bank).

Had Israel asked Jordan's King Hussein for his official consent or approval, Mr. Dayan recalls, the bridges would have remained closed.

Some Israelis have come to regard Mr. Dayan as "a national asset," suggesting that his experience and intuition be utilized at the highest governmental level. Such views still exist within the opposition Labor Party, despite the reluctance of its current leadership to readmit Mr. Dayan to its ranks.

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