Unrest hardens Arab, Israeli extremists. Political stalemate mirrors Israeli public's split on Palestinian issue

One of the most intense collisions yet between Israeli and Palestinian nationalism has bolstered extremists and weakened moderates on both sides, at least temporarily. That's the judgment of a cross-section of Israeli observers in the aftermath of two weeks of Palestinian disturbances that engulfed the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, leaving 22 Arabs dead.

Thus, the net result of the recent violence is a continuation of the cycle of Arab unrest, Israeli anxiety, Israeli crackdowns, Arab resentment, and more Arab unrest.

For the short term, the Israeli government has closed ranks over the need for sterner military measures to restore order. But the unrest has reinforced existing divisions within the governing coalition over long-term policy towards the territories, these observers say.

Stalemate at the political level is mirrored by an apparently deepening division within Israeli public opinion. The split is sharp and nearly even between advocates of an iron-fist policy and supporters of negotiation and compromise.

``The population is divided into harsh and mild camps and neither has a prevailing majority,'' says Hannoch Smith, a leading Israeli pollster. ``Each camp sees proof of their position in what's happened'' during the past two weeks.

The absence of a public mandate to move either way will likely immobilize policymakers for the foreseeable future.

In addition to reinforcing Israel's internal political deadlock, the recent disturbances may also have diminished prospects for a diplomatic settlement of the Palestinian issue.

Analysts say the recent protests have probably strengthened the hand of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and other ``nationalist'' forces seeking an independent Palestinian entity in the West Bank and Gaza.

To the extent this is true, the unrest has probably diminished the credibility of neighboring Jordan as a prospective negotiating partner for Israel, at least in the short term. (Israel seized the West Bank from Jordanian control in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.)

``The demonstrations have reinforced the view of those Palestinians who don't want to recognize or coexist with Israel today,'' says Dan Pattir, executive director of the Jeanne Kirkpatrick Forum at Tel Aviv University.

``It was `Palestinianism' that came to the fore in the recent demonstrations that weakens the credibility of King Hussein as a negotiating partner,'' adds former Knesset (parliament) member Mordechai Bar-on.

The Israeli government continued its tough crackdown over the weekend in an effort to restore the authority of Israeli security forces in the territories.

At least 1,000 Palestinian activists have been arrested in a sweep that began last week. The government was expected to announce plans yesterday to deport dozens of the detainees.

Military trials began yesterday amid reports that first offenders were being issued eight-month jail terms.

Critics fear that the arrests and possible deportations could touch off a new wave of violence timed to coincide with the Jan. 1 anniversary of the establishment of Yasser Arafat's Al-Fatah faction of the PLO.

The most optimistic assessment voiced here is that the recent violence could incline the younger generation of Israel's rightist Likud-bloc leaders to search for new alternatives to the status quo.

Against that possibility analysts weigh the more immediate reality that widespread international criticism of Israel's handling of the crisis, by touching deep Israeli insecurities, has made a diplomatic solution temporarily less likely.

Criticism of Israel's occupation policy is seen by Israelis as an effort to ``delegitimize'' their nation, in the way repeated condemnations of apartheid by the world community have weakened South Africa, one Israeli commentator said.

``The premise [of the criticism] seems to be that not only is the occupation illegal, but that Israel's quest for sovereignty within the Green Line [territory controlled by Israel before 1967] is questionable,'' Mr. Pattir says.

Faced with what is widely perceived as a national threat, Israel's rival political camps have closed ranks, momentarily muting talk of a negotiated settlement and virtually negating chances, already slim to begin with, that the centrist Labor Party would break up the coalition over the recent crisis.

Polling results released late last week by another opinion analyst, Dr. Micah Hof, indicate that 45 percent of Israelis would not be prepared to yield any land as part of any peace agreement with Jordan.

``The public as a rule, like the government, has tended to want to avoid thinking about long-range policies regarding the territories,'' pollster Smith noted.

But Mr. Bar-on, a liberal and an advocate of entering into negotiations with Palestinians, says, ``We cannot expect the Palestinians to sit idly for another 20 years and accept the status quo.''

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.