Shamir, beaten at polls, still sounds like a fighter

June 25, 1992|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,Jerusalem Bureau

JERUSALEM -- For a moment, in the wee hours of yesterday, the fresh wound of defeat brought out the old underground fighter in Yitzhak Shamir.

The cotton-mouth way of his usual speech disappeared. He stopped staring at his shoelaces. He shook as though with fever, and raised his fist in an angry cry.

"Our movement . . . has never been spoiled. Everything we have achieved, we have achieved with great effort and suffering," he said in a voice hoarse with emotion. "We have had to walk a path of thorns."

He summoned ghosts to the hushed room of his campaign headquarters: the fiery militant Zionist Vladimir Jabotinsky, the weary warrior Menachem Begin.

"We have led the people of Israel, in the Land of Israel, to a revival," he said, including himself among those spirits. For bringing the struggle to bring Jews to a greater Israel, he said, "we will be etched for eternity in the history of the Jewish people."

At 76, Yitzhak Shamir was bidding goodbye to the role of prime minister, one he had always found ill-fitting, and returning to that of the lonely underground fighter sacrificing all for an ideological goal.

Is it bitter irony that the Jewish people are those who rejected his ideology, his dream of a "Greater Israel" from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea? Mr. Shamir is not likely surprised. He has never trusted others, not even his philosophical soul-mates in the inner circle of Likud, to carry out the vision.

"One cannot always find the justice," he said yesterday, perhaps in reference to himself.

L "There are people who sometimes fall without justification."

The voters in Tuesday's election pointedly turned their back on Mr. Shamir's vision. They chose Yitzhak Rabin to be the next prime minister, a man who talks of today-world realities, not biblical missions.

Mr. Rabin's broad support is a return to the political pragmatism of Israel's founding fathers after a 15-year dalliance with the righteous zeal of the Likud.

Some see this as a watershed in Israeli politics.

"This is a major transformation" of the country's politics, said Professor Ehud Sprinzak, author of a book about the Israel right.

"It proves the Israeli people in general are a lot more moderate than the Shamir government."

There is a fitting symmetry in this election. Mr. Rabin was the last Labor Party prime minister before the 1977 takeover by the conservative Likud. Now redeemed by the electorate, Mr. Rabin intends to steer the country back from its rightward detour.

That course crosses a chasm that has plagued Israel since its birth. The conflict between practical politicians who created the state, and the underground fighters who sought the fulfillment of greater biblical dreams, has sometimes been violent.

Mr. Shamir and his predecessor, Mr. Begin, were branded criminals by the first Israeli government, which considered them dangerous radicals.

They were kept out of power until the 1977 election. For Mr. Shamir,the prime minister's mantle that he inherited from Mr. Begin in 1983 was simply a means to continue toward the goal he had as a freedom fighter: to expand the borders of Israel.

"He is a two-dimensional man: the length of Israel, and the width of Israel, and he won't give up an inch," said Dr. Avishai Margalit, a professor of Hebrew University who has studied the background of Mr. Shamir.

"He's a true believer in Greater Israel. That's all. All the rest doesn't matter," Dr. Margalit said.

Mr. Shamir would be unlikely to argue the description.

"All the land of Israel should be settled with Jews," he said often in this campaign.

"When we settle Jews in Judea and Samaria, we make it understood they cannot make a Palestinian state," he said, using biblical names of the West Bank.

But the Israeli public tired of that goal as they began to see its cost. As billions of shekels poured into building roads and guard posts for sun-baked clusters of prefabricated homes on the West Bank, Israel's economy soured, its inflow of immigrants stopped, its political allies refused to give the country financial help.

The voters turned again to the Labor Party. Mr. Rabin, despite his no-nonsense military record, promised to end the obsession with settlements, and offered to turn the country's attention inward.

In a press conference yesterday, he repeated that pledge. He never mentioned Judea and Samaria, terms which Mr. Shamir always used to signal his missionary view of the West Bank.

"Rabin is not tying Israel's policies to mystical notions about every square inch of the Holy Land," said Mr. Sprinzak.

"That was always a minority view anyway. To most of the country, 'Greater Israel' means nothing. That ideology was devastated in this election."

Mr. Shamir seemed to sense the tide. His appeal in the campaign was a blunt request for a little more time to finish his mission.

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