Rabin coalition wavers over Golan Heights issue

September 29, 1994|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,Jerusalem Bureau of The Sun

JERUSALEM -- Even before a peace agreement with Syria is reached, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin is struggling to keep his narrow ruling coalition together over the issue of the Golan Heights.

Mr. Rabin told his Labor Party chiefs yesterday that he might have to stop negotiations with Syria if a mini-rebellion in his party succeeded in restricting terms of a peace agreement.

He also warned that his government risks losing a crucial vote of support at Monday's start of the next session of the Knesset, Israel's parliament, his spokesman said.

Mr. Rabin's party and its current allies have only a one-vote absolute majority in the 120-member Knesset. Any desertions within his own party could jeopardize his government's hold.

Mr. Rabin will meet today with seven rebelling members of his party who have said that they will support bills requiring a "special" 70-vote Knesset majority and two-thirds approval in a public referendum of any peace agreement that would return the Golan Heights to Syria.

Israel and Syria are inching slowly toward a peace agreement in which Syria would give full diplomatic relations and open borders to Israel, and Israel would evacuate the 15-by-40 mile Golan plateau overlooking the Sea of Galilee. Israel captured the heights in the 1967 Six Day War. Several Israeli settlements exist there now.

"If the bill to require a special majority moves forward, it may cause [Mr. Rabin] to tell the Americans and Syrians he has no power to continue negotiations," Benny Cohen, a spokesman for the prime minister, said last night.

"Anything he might do in negotiations in the end would be jeopardized, because the point of the bills would be to give power to a minority. That's not a fair way to negotiate."

The threats by those against withdrawing from the Golan Heights brought a reaction from Labor Party doves this week. They urged the party to vote to accept a Palestinian state and to withdraw from all of the Golan Heights.

"There is no choice. There have been changes. It's unrealistic to expect the [party] platform would remain as it was in 1991," said Labor member Haggai Merom, whose proposal also called for giving Palestinians an "embassy" in Jerusalem.

In Israeli coalition politics, always a delicate partnership of hawks and doves, such proposals are simply not raised. They are too disruptive. They make even more difficult Mr. Rabin's task of quieting his quarrelsome colleagues and garnering support for moves toward peace with Syria.

Frustrated by that division, Mr. Rabin hopes once again to enlist support from the six Knesset members of the ultra-Orthodox Shas Party. Shas was a member of the ruling coalition until its leader, Aryeh Deri, was indicted last fall on charges of misusing public funds and the party quit the ruling coalition.

Shas officials already have announced that they will capitalize on Mr. Rabin's vulnerability by requiring new concessions to the religious right in exchange for their support.

Mr. Rabin believes the political bloodshed over the Golan Heights issue will require reinforcement of his coalition, according to aides.

Other Knesset members have offered bills requiring an immediate referendum on the Golan Heights and bills seeking to keep Arab Israeli citizens from voting in a Golan Heights referendum.

Mr. Rabin described the proposed measures yesterday as "Denver boot laws" that would stop any movement toward peace, Israel Radio reported.

"If Rabin is going to lose control, this is where it's going to start," said Gadi Wolfsfeld, author of the book "Political Protest in Israel."

"These bills probably will be defeated. But if not, then all hell breaks loose," he said.

A group of Israeli settlers continued a hunger strike that entered its 18th day yesterday, and were visited by hundreds of supporters at their campsite at Gamla, on the Golan plateau.

The group hopes to pressure Mr. Rabin into supporting one of the bills. The prime minister is expected to reject their appeal Monday in his speech formally opening the Knesset session.

The hunger strikers have tapped a well of support. But their strike probably will have little effect, predicted Mr. Wolfsfeld.

"Israeli hunger strikers never die," he said. "It's good for media attention, but at some point they will start to eat again."

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