Rabin bears olive branch as Israeli prime minister

July 14, 1992|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,Jerusalem Bureau

JERUSALEM -- Yitzhak Rabin became Israel's prime minister yesterday bearing an olive branch. He offered to meet Palestinian peace negotiators in Jerusalem and said he would go to Arab countries if asked.

"Give peace a chance," he said in a direct appeal to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. He said he wanted to begin forming "neighborly relations."

Mr. Rabin, 70, replaced the hard-line Yitzhak Shamir and installed a new government yesterday after a seven-hour session of the Knesset, Israel's parliament. His government was approved 67-53.

In his first speech, Mr. Rabin advanced some of the themes he had stressed that led to his Labor Party victory in the June 23 election:

* He invited the heads of Jordan, Syria and Lebanon to speak to the Knesset.

* He acknowledged that Arab and Druse citizens of Israel have RTC been poorly treated by the Jewish government, and he promised a "great leap" to remedy unequal services provided to their communities.

* He promised to try to thwart "any possibility that one of Israel's enemies will possess nuclear weapons."

* He vowed that the government will provide security for existing Jewish settlements in the occupied territories, while stopping their expansion in some areas.

Mr. Rabin's speech was followed by a fusillade of criticism from the outgoing ministers of the Likud bloc, led by Mr. Shamir. The 76-year-old exiting prime minister lambasted the new government as "radical, extremist."

Mr. Shamir and his housing minister, Ariel Sharon, both suggested that the new government was turning its back on Zionism. Mr. Sharon went further, prompting shouts of outrage when he asserted that "Arabs in Israel have no national rights."

Mr. Sharon complained that "non-Christians" among Israeli Arabs, who number 800,000 among the nation's 5 million citizens, had swung the election to Labor, and he questioned their loyalty.

Their remarks were fitting to the hard line taken on Arab issues during the 15 years of dominance by the Likud bloc. Mr. Shamir believes that the Arab territories seized in the Six-Day War in 1967 are rightful Jewish lands, and he vowed never to cede them.

In contrast, Mr. Rabin has promised to negotiate autonomy for the Palestinians in the occupied territories. Yesterday, he reaffirmed the schedule of the Camp David accords that calls for a permanent solution to those areas in five years.

In his speech, he made a blunt plea to the Palestinians: "We havebeen fated to live together on the same patch of land, in the same country. We lead our lives with you, beside you and against you.

"Your bloodshed and terror against us brought you only suffering, humiliation, bereavement and pain."

He said Palestinian leaders "have led you through lies and deceit. They have missed every opportunity."

Mr. Rabin said Palestinians who have lived in refugee camps since1948 "have never known a single day of freedom and joy in your lives. Listen to us, if only this once: We offer you the fairest and most viable proposal."

Mr. Rabin challenged the Palestinians to stop violence during negotiations, and he added a threat. If terrorism continues, "we will treat the territories as though there were no dialogue. . . . We will employ every possible means to prevent terror and violence," he said.

The new prime minister's invitation to meet with the joint Palestinian-Jordanian peace negotiators in Jerusalem is a change from the pattern of the peace talks. Until now, there has been wrangling over the location of each session, and all have been outside the Middle East.

Faisal al-Husseini, head of the Palestinian negotiators, last night called the proposal "interesting." Jordan's chief delegate to the talks was less interested. He dismissed it as "just talk," Reuters reported in Amman.

Mr. Shamir and Mr. Sharon directed vehement criticism at the apparent new lighting rod among the incoming ministers, Shulamit Aloni. Mrs. Aloni, leader of the liberal Meretz party, will become education minister. Mr. Sharon said she would not uphold proper Jewish upbringing and was unfit for the post.

Mrs. Aloni replied that Mr. Sharon should be "the last to talk" and that voters had rejected the Likud's ideological bent.

Her appointment to the education post helped scuttle Mr. Rabin's attempt to form a broader coalition government. Rightist and religious parties balked at Mrs. Aloni in that influential job.

Mr. Rabin began his government yesterday with a slim majority of the 120 Knesset seats.

His coalition included 44 seats of his Labor Party, 12 from Meretz and six from Shas, the only ultraorthodox religious party to join, for a total of 62.

Mr. Rabin also has the support of five Knesset members from Israeli-Arab parties, although they are not in the government.

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