Israeli vote may turn right in response to bus attack. Palestinian action likely to spur backlash
Ramallah, Israeli-occupied West Bank — The blasts that destroyed an Israeli bus Sunday night, killing an Israeli mother and her three children, have sent tremors through the Israeli Labor Party. The incident, pollsters say, could swing undecided voters toward Labor's rival, the Likud Party, in today's election. As if to underscore the point, a Labor Party poll, reported in a local paper yesterday, indicates that some undecided voters shifted right in response to a car-bomb attack last month, which killed seven Israeli soldiers in Israel's self-proclaimed ``security zone'' in south Lebanon.
Likud, in a campaign that has revolved around the question of what should be done with the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, has advocated Draconian measures to deal with the 11-month-old Palestinian uprising in the territories. Labor, while backing tough measures to deal with the unrest, also insists that territorial compromise will eventually be the only way to lasting peace.
Sunday's incident, however, could move some of the 10 percent of resident Israelis who do not normally vote - the majority of whom are believed to be conservative - to show up at the polls, shifting the balance toward Likud.
``An event of this kind can bring some of them out to express their rage,'' says Elihu Katz, an election analyst with the Israeli Institute of Applied Social Research in Jerusalem.
Yesterday, in an orthodox neighborhood of Jerusalem, hundreds of mourners attended the funeral for Rachel Weiss and her three children. At least five other passengers were injured Sunday when, according to Army estimates, between three and seven Palestinians attacked the bus with firebombs on the outskirts of Jericho, in the West Bank.
Israeli soldiers reportedly rounded up hundreds of Palestinians in the West Bank. Israel Radio reported that three suspects confessed to taking part in the attack. Jericho was placed under curfew, and the homes of three suspects were destroyed by the Army.
In a radio broadcast, Army chief of staff Dan Shomron described the attack as a ``local initiative'' and said that those captured did not belong to any organized Palestinian faction.
Whether or not this is the case, the attack could upset a coordinated Arab strategy to convince Israelis to vote for parties of the left. The strategy was launched by Jordan's King Hussein, who said on an American television program last month that a victory for Likud would be an ``absolute disaster'' for the Mideast. On Sunday, a leaflet issued by the underground leadership of the Palestinian uprising called on Israelis to ``vote for peace'' by backing parties that support Palestinians' right to self-determination.
In Ramallah, a dozen miles from where Mrs. Weiss's funeral was taking place, the tension was palpable yesterday. Shops began closing down 90 minutes ahead of schedule in anticipation of violence in the wake of Sunday's attack. Along the main street youngsters gathered, many carrying stones, cruising for a confrontation with Israeli soldiers. A group of 30 teenage girls began chanting ``We sacrifice our blood and soul for you martyrs.'' A makeshift barricade of scrap metal was strewn across the road. Stones were thrown, tear-gas was fired, and the crowd was dispersed.
Later, a Palestinian businessman, an employee of an Israeli company, said incidents like the bus bombing were inevitable.
``As a human being it's painful,'' he said of the death of the four Israelis.
``But after living 42 years in a tent [in refugee camps] their insides were boiling,'' he added, of the Palestinians who instigated Sunday's attack. ``They had a right to do it, because the Israelis have taken our houses and our land. They are not heros, but they are not terrible people. I am against violence, but sometimes there is no other way.''
Like everyone here, the businessman seemed resigned to waiting, as people elsewhere grappled with the fate of the West Bank and Gaza: Israelis voting in today's election and, two weeks from now, leaders of the Palestine Liberation Organization, who meet in Algiers to decide whether to declare an independent Palestinian state in the territories.
No one has conducted a public opinion poll on how Palestinians living the territories feel about the Israeli election. But most straw polls seem to draw nearly unanimous responses.
``People say Labor is better than Likud,'' says one woman, a recent college graduate. ``I say they're two faces of the same coin.'' Both parties support policies of deportation, house demolition, collective punishment, and the closure of West Bank schools to deal with the uprising, she pointed out.
``There's no difference because [the two parties] have built the country with the same rule: build it on Palestinian lands,'' says a Ramallah merchant.
Leaflet No. 28, issued Sunday, has called for a general strike in the territories today and tomorrow, the 71st anniversary of the Balfour Declaration which pledged the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine.
The Israeli Army has temporarily sealed off the territories to keep Palestinians from traveling into Israel. The move is one of several measures to preempt violence during the two strike days and during the meeting of the Palestine National Council, which functions as a Palestinian parliament. Leaflet 28 has called for three days of celebrations starting Nov. 15, the day the PNC, the PLO's highest decision-making body, is expected to declare an independent Palestinian state. The leaflet also calls for stepped up attacks on Israeli targets using ``more petrol bombs and more stones.''
Since the start of the uprising, seven Israelis and more than 300 Palestinians have been killed.