Giving peace a chance

June 29, 1992

Israel's voters went beyond predictions in throwing out the Likud government and putting Labor in charge. In fact, with some 35 percent of the vote and 45 of the 120 Knesset seats, Yitzhak Rabin's Labor Party cannot have everything its own way. It must make a coalition, first with the Meretz bloc which is more dovish than Labor, then with at least one other small party. But the purpose of the voters is clear: to negotiate more flexibly and earnestly for peace with the Palestinians and Arab states than outgoing Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir was willing to do.

General Rabin is no pushover. He was the army chief of staff when Israel overran the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza in 1967. He was the National Unity government's defense minister in 1987-8, serving under Mr. Shamir, who ordered severe repression of the Palestinian uprising. He ousted Shimon Peres from leadership of the Labor Party by being more hawkish. But he wants to trade land for peace (some land, anyway), he wants to get Palestinian autonomy up and running, he wants to slow down if not end Jewish settlements on the West Bank. And that appears to be why a critical segment of the Israeli electorate shifted from Likud to Labor.

General Rabin campaigned blaming Mr. Shamir's intransigence for losing $10 billion in loan guarantees from the U.S. The electorate is likely to hold him responsible for obtaining them. The loan guarantees are needed to bring the commercial bank loans that Israel needs to start industry and service corporations for some 400,000 Russian immigrants, many of them technologists and scientists. So the former prime minister and ambassador to Washington is likely to seek good relations with the Bush administration and perhaps even to put settlements on hold.

Mr. Rabin is 70, which has come to seem young in Israeli politics. Mr. Shamir, at 76, is probably going out of politics soon. Likud is likely to be in opposition for years, and to need younger and more flexible leadership for a return to power in future elections. The Russian immigrants have made themselves felt in an election for the first time, but not the last. So have Sephardic Jews, who rallied to Likud in 1977 but were offended by Mr. Shamir's churlish belittling of former foreign minister David Levy, one of their own. Israel's priority for national security has not been rescinded. The Likud Party's religious basis for possession of the West Bank has. Palestinians and Arab states will still find that they cannot expect to get any land back except for peace. Nothing less will do.

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