Party gives him a month to maneuver as violence tests Israeli leader's government
By Ed Timms / The Dallas Morning News
JERUSALEM â€“ As rock-throwing demonstrators clashed with Israeli troops Monday and police investigated a deadly attack on an East Jerusalem government office, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak weathered the first meeting of his country's parliament since the crisis began.
Already weakened by the violence and the derailment of peace negotiations, the prime minister's minority government had seemed in danger of folding. More than a week of intensive talks between Mr. Barak's Labor Party and hard-liner Ariel Sharon's Likud Party failed to produce an emergency government of "national unity." But before Monday's parliament session, the orthodox Shas party, with enough votes in the Knesset, Israel's parliament, to fend off an attempt to bring down Mr. Barak's government, gave him a month to deal with the crisis. At least 143 people have been killed in 33 days of violence.
Late Monday, Israeli helicopter gunships fired rockets at the offices of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement in at least three cities. The attacks followed the killings of two Israelis.
Monday's parliament session was fractious. Israeli Arab legislators held up pictures of the 13 Israeli Arabs killed during the unrest and complained that excessive force had been used against demonstrators. Mr. Barak's policies during the crisis also came under attack from the right-wing members.
And Mr. Sharon, whose visit to a site in Jerusalem's Old City that is holy to Muslims and Jews set off a riot on the first day of the unrest, voiced his objections to the division of Jerusalem and other concessions that might have been made in peace negotiations. But he also showed a continued interest in forming an emergency government to show that Israel is united.
Mr. Barak said Monday that he was still committed to peace and believed it was still a possibility. He also stressed the importance of Israel's security. And he indicated that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was responsible for the violence and the damage to the peace process.
"Negotiations are conducted around the table, and not in the streets and not with shooting or with stones," Mr. Barak said.
In the West Bank town of Ramallah, Dr. As'ad Abdul-Rahman, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization's executive committee, blamed Israel. And he outlined a series of new steps that the Palestinian leadership is contemplating.
Palestinians, he said, have been forced to put up with "Israel's aggression ... as long as we don't accept their stated proposals." The protesters who confront Israeli troops are not in Israel, he said, but in their own land opposing an "occupation force."
Palestinian leaders are considering an economic boycott of Israeli goods and seek the involvement of other countries in future peace discussions.
Dr. Abdul-Rahman said President Clinton appears to be well-meaning, but he criticized what he described as a "very biased attitude" of the U.S. government favoring Israel and negotiations that were ineffective and unproductive.
"It is totally absurd and illogical to leave the process solely in the hands of the U.S.," he said, adding that "lots of motions without any movement forward ... is a perfect recipe for an explosion."
He also described the Palestinian leadership's position on acts of violence.
"We should emphasize that it is our determination ... to deny any military operations beyond the Green Line, that is to say, inside Israel," Dr. Abdul-Rahman said. "We have lots of military targets in our own land. These, we don't encourage to hit, nor do we discourage ... ."
The "Green Line" refers to Israel's border after a 1948 cease-fire that, for a time at least, ended fighting between the fledgling Jewish state and Arab military forces. The West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem came under Israeli control after its military defeated a combined Arab force in the "Six Day War" of 1967. One Palestinian goal is to see that territory incorporated into a sovereign state.
For many Israelis, including tens of thousands who live in Jewish settlements well within the Palestinian territories, land outside Israel's 1948 borders is now emphatically part of Israel.
Many Israelis had supported the idea of a negotiated agreement that ultimately would have led to a sovereign Palestinian state, as well as prolonged peace and security for Israel.
Reality has fallen far short of that goal.
Some Israelis also fear that turning over large portions of the West Bank and Gaza will only lead to demands for more land.
In a statement Monday, Mr. Barak said there is still a possibility that the diplomatic process could continue if violence decreases.
In the meantime, Israel is taking other measures. Officials said Monday that soldiers with the Israel Defense Forces will aggressively pursue Palestinian gunmen who fire at them, taking the initiative with small units trained in guerilla warfare.
Palestinian militants, it appears, also may be taking the conflict to a new level.
A man described by witnesses as a Palestinian walked into the lobby of the National Insurance Institute office in East Jerusalem on Monday and shot two Israeli security guards, killing one and critically injuring the other.
"It is totally clear that this incident was perpetrated in order to deteriorate the situation in Jerusalem," said Yair Yitzhaki, who commands Israeli police forces in the Jerusalem area. "It was relatively calm in the last few weeks."
Also Monday, the body of an Israeli man who had been bound and repeatedly stabbed was found between Gilo, a Jewish suburb of Jerusalem, and Beit Jala, a Palestinian area. The Associated Press reported that the Arabic words "Allahu Akbar" â€“ God is great â€“ were carved into his back.
Maj. Gen. Yitzhaki said he had no doubt that the attack at the government office and the stabbing death were connected to Palestinian unrest.
Israeli officials later said the Jerusalem violence represented a major escalation. Mr. Barak and his security officials met late Monday to plan retaliation, and the helicopter attacks on the Palestinian offices followed.
Israeli police also were investigating the death of an Israeli man who was killed over the weekend in Ramallah.