Shamir Backed on Plan for Vote by Palestinians
Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir’s plan to hold elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip received support in principle from most of his Cabinet on Sunday, although details were not worked out and hints of future disagreements surfaced quickly.
Some rightist ministers, including two from Shamir’s own Likud Party, warned that his plan would eventually lead to Palestinian independence. Leaders of the center-left Labor Party, while backing the proposal, put forward their own ideas on how elections should lead to peace.
Three Arabs Killed
While the Cabinet heard a report from Shamir on his recent diplomatic trip to Washington, soldiers shot and killed three Arabs in the West Bank and Gaza, including a 10-year-old boy. In the past four days, at least 10 Palestinians have died in clashes with the army, making the period one of the bloodiest in the 17-month-old Arab uprising.
Israeli officials were investigating an incident that occurred Thursday at the village of Nahhalin where at least four Arabs were killed. Police Commissioner Chaim Bar-Lev said initial findings showed that a few of the border police who raided the village were isolated by stone throwers, ran out of rubber bullets and turned to more lethal ammunition.
Other sources, however, said the army was considering disciplinary action against two officers of the military’s border police because their men used excessive force.
The Nahhalin incident, along with the spate of weekend killings, appeared to be a setback for hopes expressed by the Bush Administration that a period of confidence-building take place to lead to peace talks between the Israeli and Palestinian sides.
Shamir’s proposal suggests elections be held for Arab peace delegates who would work out an interim agreement with Israel and accept an autonomy arrangement under Israeli authority. Talks on a final arrangement would be held some time later. The Cabinet will name a “committee of experts” to work out the election details, said Shamir’s spokesman, Avi Pazner.
Pazner added that there is no timetable for the committee’s work.
Loss of West Bank
Criticism from the Likud Party centered on fears that the process would end in loss of the West Bank and Gaza.
“This is a path of no return,” cautioned David Levy, the housing minister and a persistent challenger for leadership in the Likud. Likud has long opposed giving up land in return for peace accords.
Likud member Yitzhak Mordechai compared the plan to a man jumping out of a skyscraper.
Among the many details yet to be worked out are whether the elections would be for municipal posts or delegates elected at-large, whether Arabs who live in East Jerusalem, which Israel annexed in 1967, could participate and whether Israel would withdraw any troops before the vote.
Rabin Is Satisfied
Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who originated a proposal similar to the one Shamir brought to Washington, expressed satisfaction with the election idea.
“I believe it is a good initiative. This initiative puts the ball in the Arab, Palestinian court because Israel offers something concrete,” Rabin said after Sunday’s Cabinet meeting.
Rabin is a top official of the Labor Party, which shares in Shamir’s government a prominent, if junior, role. In national elections last year, Labor campaigned on a platform of holding elections in the West Bank and Gaza and at some point, surrendering occupied land in return for peace accords.
Rabin favors an area-wide vote, rather than one for municipal office holders, so that its winners would have no powers outside of negotiating with Israel.
Finance Minister Shimon Peres, who heads the Labor Party, said that the elections should produce delegates who would not only negotiate an interim accord but also the final status of the territories.
“They will go and elect their representatives, something that will enable them to negotiate freely as equals for their own destiny,” Peres said.
Arab activists initially rejected Shamir’s proposal on the grounds that the vote would have no meaning if Palestinians were not guaranteed eventual independence. They also demanded at least some foreign supervision of the vote.
Palestinians are now hinting at a positive response, if only because they are reluctant to appear rigid. The task of coming up with a measured response has been complicated, they say, by the violence of the past few days and especially that at Nahhalin.
Israeli sources said that initial findings of an army investigation of the Nahhalin incident showed that the pre-dawn raid was badly planned. The commander of the company that entered the village was not present during the violence, and the officer in charge let things get out of control, initial inquiries showed.
There were reports that the border police and a regular army unit that later entered the village clashed when the army troops refused to give more ammunition to the border police. Harsh words and a shoving match broke out before the army left the scene, army sources said.
Army Chief of Staff Dan Shomron said that despite accusations that the border police have used excessive force in suppressing the uprising, the unit will continue to be deployed in the territories.