Israel braces for reaction to ruling U.N. showdown nears with Clinton caught in middle

January 29, 1993|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,Jerusalem Bureau Danna Bethlehem of the Jerusalem Bureau contributed to this article.

JERUSALEM -- The Israeli government hunkered down yesterday, facing an international diplomatic assault after its high court upheld the expulsion of 415 Palestinians.

In approving the Dec. 17 deportations, Israel's Supreme Court cleared the way for a showdown between Israel and the United Nations, with President Clinton caught unhappily in between.

"Israel is under attack from friends and enemies," proclaimed Likud Knesset member Dan Meridor, capturing the frenzied mood of the government yesterday. "The government is under increasing pressure."

Yitzhak Rabin, the prime minister, took to the ramparts in a series of impassioned speeches, bitterly attacking the United Nations and rejecting outside criticism of Israel's actions.

"So far for Israel, justice has not been found in the U.N.," Mr. Rabin said last night. "What we have done was justified."

The day before he had reacted even more angrily to the recommendation of U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali that the Security Council had to act to punish Israel for disobeying the resolution demanding the return of the deportees.

He called the recommendation "twisted and repulsive."

The looming confrontation with the United Nations gives President Clinton an early and unwelcome test in the Middle East. The Security Council branded the deportations a violation of the Geneva Convention. It is expected soon to consider enforcement of its resolutions through sanctions or other action.

Such a vote could offer the United States an untenable choice:

* If the United States vetoes the move on Israel's behalf, the Palestinians say they will abandon the Middle East peace talks. The other Arab negotiators likely would join them.

The vote also could crumble what is left of the coalition the United States built with Arab countries in the Persian Gulf war, and damage support for such actions as enforcing U.N. sanctions against Iraq.

* If it does not veto sanctions, the United States will turn its back for the first time on a long-term commitment to protect Israel in the United Nations and risk having the Israelis walk out of the peace negotiations.

In Washington, a spokesman for President Clinton said the United States is "intensifying our discussions right now with all sides" to resolve the impasse without facing a veto.

"Right now it's most appropriate to get a diplomatic solution. That's what were focusing on, " said spokesman George Stephanopoulos.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said "We don't think it's time for a debate in the Security Council on sanctions."

But a senior U.S. official, speaking to the Los Angeles Times, said that the administration has told Israel to avoid a U.N. showdown and to find a way to reverse the deportations.

In Jerusalem, Israeli officials were anxious to suggest they already have assurances that Washington will protect Israel. The suggestions seemed designed to force Washington's hand.

"I believe . . . no president of the United States will give a hand to any resolution in the U.N. that will be against Israel . . . and will do as all presidents have in the past to prevent any resolution that will try to harm Israel," Mr. Rabin said in a speech to a mostly American audience of investors in Israel Bonds.

The refusal by the high court yesterday to order a return of the deportees is another blow to the Middle East peace negotiations, now in recess. Hanan Ashrawi, a spokeswoman for the Palestinian delegation, said Israel's position "does not make resumption possible."

"It's a very dangerous decision," she said. "It puts Israel now against the rule of international law."

Mr. Rabin has adamantly refused to retreat on the issue, to the point that Israelis wonder if it has become a personal matter of "saving face."

Israel deported the Palestinians to Lebanese territory after a series of murders of Israeli soldiers. Israel said the men are ringleaders and soldiers in the fundamentalist Islamic Hamas and Islamic Jihad organizations responsible for the deaths.

The deportation was initially highly popular in Israel, though as the impasse has continued, criticism of the action has increased.

"As time passes, the deportation of 415 Hamas activists has emerged to be more and more of an error," said Ha'aretz, a respected Israeli daily. "It has not assisted the battle against terrorism, and has embroiled us in an international mess."

Lawyers for the deportees challenged the procedures used for the expulsion, the largest in Israel's peacetime history. After weeks of delay, the Israel High Court yesterday issued a muddled ruling.

The court said the army's order for a mass deportation was illegal. But the individual deportation orders could stand, the court ruled, as long as the Palestinians are allowed to appeal the orders retroactively.

Nineteen of the deportees already have left the camp. Some were allowed to return to their homes or to prison after Israel decided their deportations were in error. A few others have been hospitalized.

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