Rabin Is Assailed From Right and Left : Israel: Heckled in Knesset, he strongly defends deportation of 415 Palestinians and his decision to relent.
Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, under attack from both right and left for his handling of the Palestinian deportee crisis, stalked angrily out of the Israeli Parliament on Wednesday, but later returned to defend both the initial deportation and the decision this week to relent.
Against strong heckling, Rabin insisted that the Dec. 17 deportation of 415 suspected supporters of militant Islamic groups had been a courageous blow against terrorism--and that Israel retained the right to take such action again despite an agreement to let the deportees return early.
“The principle of our ability to remove for a limited time hundreds of inciters, leaders and organizers remains intact,” Rabin told the Knesset, Israel’s Parliament.
But members of the opposition Likud Party accused him of “bowing” in the face of international criticism and American pressure.
“You have put an end to our weapon of deportation,” Likud’s Yehoshua Matza had told Rabin earlier in the stormy debate. “We can’t use it again. You bowed, you retreated, you compromised. How did you get Israel into such trouble?”
Ze’ev (Benny) Begin, the son of the late Prime Minister Menachem Begin, charged the government with zigzagging on crucial policy questions and accused Rabin himself of failing to think ahead.
“This government is on the path of retreat in the face of terrorism and on a path that brings a growing danger to our security,” he said.
But the accusations of blundering came as harshly from the left as from the right, as almost the whole Knesset seemed to rise up in anger against Rabin over the way that the deportation, which at first had widespread support among Israelis, has cost the country support abroad and failed to end attacks by Islamic guerrillas in the occupied Gaza Strip and West Bank.
“Our government has made the most terrible mistake,” Tamar Gozansky, a deputy from the pro-Communist Hadash Party, declared, calling for immediate repatriation of all the Palestinians.
“Anyone who says this chapter is finished does not know what he is talking about. The 400 (deportees) will stay in Lebanon, television will continue to broadcast them there, and the United Nations Security Council will adopt another resolution against us.”
Even members of Rabin’s own Labor Party were on the attack, criticizing him for the original decision, for a failure to foresee the consequences and then for mishandling of the prolonged controversy.
Hagai Meirom accused Rabin of bullying his ministers to the point where they were afraid to dissent or criticize his decisions; Justice Minister David Libai had abstained in the Cabinet’s original vote on the deportation, believing it illegal and unjust, Meirom said, and Rabin aides were now targeting him in the press.
After sitting through one attack after another, Rabin stood up and left the Knesset chamber in clear anger but returned later to defend himself and reassert his leadership, now much questioned.
“I believe this decision (to exile the suspected Islamic activists) was a correct one, an exceptional decision that in the last 20 years no government in Israel dared to take,” Rabin said.
He rejected all criticism of the compromise worked out with the United States this week. Under this plan, 100 deportees will be allowed to return immediately and the remaining 296 before the end of the year in return for the promise of a U.S. veto of any U.N. sanctions or moves to force the men’s repatriation. The balance of the deportees already have been allowed back, most of them because Israel conceded error in deporting them in the first place.
“I heard all these words about bowing and retreating,” Rabin said, “but I tell you that the Arab world does not understand it that way. . . .
“The entire picture after the two decisions is a blow to terror and the opening of the chances to renew the peace negotiations on the basis of understanding with the United States. I stand behind the things that were done. I think . . . the future will prove the extent to which we were right.”
Rabin had ordered the men exiled, saying they represented the leadership of two radical Muslim groups, the Islamic Resistance Movement, known as Hamas, and Islamic Jihad, which had killed six soldiers and policemen in December and have since killed three more members of the security forces.
Under the compromise reached Monday with the United States, Israel plans to publish today a list of about 100 deportees regarded as lesser security threats who will be allowed to return immediately. The periods of exile of the rest will be reduced so that all will return within the year, so that the period of exile for most will have been cut in half.
The Clinton Administration, calling the deal a “breakthrough” after more than a month of fruitless diplomacy, agreed in turn to head off any U.N. sanctions against Israel and also to seek third countries where the deportees can wait out their terms.
In Washington, White House Communications Director George Stephanopoulos and State Department spokesman Richard Boucher sought Wednesday to justify the U.S. position that Israel’s plan to bring back a quarter of the deportees is in substantial compliance with the Security Council resolution demanding repatriation of all.
“We believe this is a significant step, and we believe it’s generally consistent with (U.N.) Resolution 799,” Stephanopoulos said, “and we would just urge all parties now to move forward on the overall peace process and we want to reinvigorate that peace process.”
Although Washington failed to issue invitations for the resumption of the Arab-Israeli negotiations in Washington and other capitals this month as planned, Boucher said that the United States is winning support for the compromise on the deportees and believes Arab-Israeli peace negotiations can resume soon.
“We are finding broad acknowledgment of the importance of avoiding counterproductive confrontations at the United Nations and of the need to advance the Middle East peace talks,” Boucher said.
The deportees, however, again rejected the plan. Abdul Aziz Rantisi, the Gaza physician who speaks for the group, told reporters visiting the tent camp at Marj Zahour: “We want to all return to our homeland and children and we will never accept such a deal.”
At U.N. headquarters, Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali told American Jewish leaders that Israel’s offer did not satisfy U.N. demands and warned that some members of the Security Council would now move to impose trade sanctions on Israel.
In London, the British government urged Israel to comply fully with the U.N. demand for the return of all those deported last month, but it stopped well short of calling for enforcement measures.
“We voted for Security Council Resolution 799,” a Foreign Office spokesman said. “We think the Israelis should comply fully with it.” But a new mandatory U.N. resolution, which Arab states want to include sanctions to force Israeli compliance, would “not be helpful at this stage,” he said.
Times staff writer Norman Kempster, in Washington, contributed to this article.