THE WORLD FROM...Jerusalem

Even in announcing a compromise on the expulsion of Palestinians Israel sticks to `good offense' tactic

WHEN the world points a finger of accusation at Israel, Israel jabs one right back.

The country that proved with consummate military efficiency in the 1967 Six-Day War that the best defense is a good offense has recently put the same principle to work in the diplomatic field.

Fending off international condemnation over the expulsion of 415 alleged activists from radical Islamic Palestinian groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, Israeli leaders adopted the pained tone often used when they feel misunderstood.

Even as he announced on Feb. 1 that he was allowing about 100 of the expellees to come home in a compromise to satisfy the United States, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin insisted that he was proud of having ordered the expulsions last month.

Throughout the crisis, Mr. Rabin, who was Israel's Army chief of staff in 1967, has rejected international criticism of the expulsions, however much of a mistake they may appear to have been.

A perfect illustration of Rabin's tactics came Jan. 31, just two days after US Secretary of State Warren Christopher had telephoned him with a strongly worded request that Israel bring at least some of the expellees home.

Israel's initial response to US pressure to comply with a United Nations Security Council resolution seeking the expellees' return was to announce that the Shin Bet secret police had arrested two Americans last week, on suspicion of trying to reorganize Hamas.

Instantly, "senior security sources" - government-speak for intelligence agents - were made available to reporters to explain how they believe that some of Hamas's top leaders live in the US, and direct attacks on Israel from their safe haven.

The purpose seemed clear, and Police Minister Moshe Shahal made it explicit: "Certainly after the connections we have revealed, I think that international public opinion should reconsider its attitude toward Israel," he told reporters.

At the same time, Rabin launched a frontal attack on UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali.

Mr. Boutros-Ghali had recommended that the Security Council should take "whatever measures are required" to force Israel to return the expellees. He also warned that the world will accuse the council of double standards if it did not enforce Israeli compliance with its resolutions after having condoned a war to enforce Iraqi compliance over Kuwait.

Rabin called Boutros-Ghali "a gift to Hamas," and rejected what he called his "twisted and repulsive report." At the same time, he turned the "double standards" argument on its head, and accused the UN secretary-general of applying them to Israel.

His report "makes no mention of terrorism, or of Hamas, as usual," Rabin complained to a Knesset (parliament) committee.

To the Americans, Europeans, and most of the rest of the world, it is Israel that has jeopardized the Middle East peace talks by expelling the Palestinians. But for Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, it is the rest of the world that would be to blame for torpedoing talks, if it tried to do anything about the expulsions.

"It should be stated in absolutely clear terms that UN sanctions against Israel will bury the peace process alive," Mr. Peres told the London-based Arabic daily newspaper Asharq al-Awsat.

Rabin has now bowed to international pressure and offered a compromise. But only to please Washington, not necessarily because he was personally convinced.

Often, Israel does not see eye to eye with the rest of the world. But sometimes, it seems, it is looking at an entirely different landscape.

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