Public Opinion in Israel Hardens Against Dealings With Palestinians


The Persian Gulf crisis has strengthened the hand of the right-wing administration of Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and the hawks at the expense of Israeli doves, government sources said Sunday.

"Generally speaking," said a high government official, "the political right is gaining much more from the events of the past 10 days than the left.

"The Israeli man in the street is increasingly concerned about national security and doesn't want to negotiate changes in Israel's security by dealing with the Palestinians."

The two events that apparently have hardened Israeli public opinion against negotiations--a policy more favored by the opposition Labor Party than the governing coalition--are Iraq's invasion of Kuwait and support of that action by the Palestine Liberation Organization.

The Israeli government's reaction to the crisis and to threats by Iraq's President Saddam Hussein has been measured: Shamir has urged calm and Defense Minister Moshe Arens has said that Israel is capable of defending itself.

But Housing Minister Ariel Sharon, the former defense minister who was largely responsible for the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, has been shrill in his comments. Sharon, who has a wide popular following, said that the United States should take prompt military action to force the Iraqi army out of Kuwait.

"Soon we shall see pictures of hungry Iraqi babies and children on television, the demand will grow to bring home the troops, the hostage problem will grow acute and America's partners will tire of the long wait in the desert," Sharon said.

"If action is necessary, then now is the time for swift military action. The more time passes, the more the world will grow accustomed to the idea that Kuwait is part of Iraq, and it will become more difficult to get the Iraqis out."

Government sources indicated privately that they are happy that Sharon is busily involved in finding homes and jobs for Soviet immigrants--the main domestic problem in the country--rather than dealing with defense matters.

For their part, Labor opposition figures have been muted in their criticism of the government during the crisis, except for an outburst by opposition leader Shimon Peres.

Peres said that the Shamir government is "devoid of leadership," adding that it is "not making its voice heard" on the Iraqi crisis, while at the same time warning against creating an atmosphere of panic.

But this view was contradicted by another Labor Parliament member, Ezer Weizman, a former general and defense minister, who praised the "calm but firm" response to the crisis by Shamir and Arens.

"Shamir said what had to be said," Weizman said. "I think the government has acted wisely, coolly. They deserve full marks in this volatile situation."

Government leaders believe that by supporting Hussein, the Palestinian rank-and-file and the PLO leadership have earned the further enmity of many Israelis.

"I think the mood of Israelis is that there is no point negotiating with Palestinians who support a leader like Saddam, who wants to wipe us off the face of the earth," one official said Sunday.

Another Israeli specialist on Arab affairs said: "I think the real mood of the people was shown during last week's riots in Jerusalem over the murder of the two youths. Saddam Hussein is still a long way away, but these killings happened in our own back yard.

"A lot of people, including the religious Jews who took part in the riots, are going to blame the Labor Party for allowing the conditions under which this could happen."

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