Israel continues on road to peace Troop redeployment resumes

Peres eager not to lose momentum

Week devoted to mourning

Right-wing rhetoric is called a factor in Rabin assassination

November 08, 1995|By Dan Fesperman | Dan Fesperman,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

JERUSALEM -- A grieving Israel eased back on track toward peace yesterday, one day after burying the prime minister who set the process in motion.

But the same divisive anger that led an assassin to kill Yitzhak Rabin was already beginning to drown out initial calls for national unity.

Although the nation will officially be in mourning for the rest of the week, the government yesterday resumed its redeployment of occupying troops away from Arab towns on the West Bank, in accordance with the latest agreement with the Palestine Liberation Organization.

It was a quick show of good faith by acting Prime Minister Shimon Peres, who is determined not to lose the momentum established by Mr. Rabin even as he ponders the electoral future of his slim governing majority.

"I shall continue the process of peace," he vowed yesterday.

"Whatever we have agreed and whatever we undertook upon ourselves, we are going to implement in spirit and letter."

Israel also eased restrictions on the movement of West Bank and Gaza Strip Palestinians, allowing several thousand to return to their jobs in Israel.

They had been barred from doing so since Saturday night, when Mr. Rabin was assassinated.

The man accused of killing him is described as a fanatical right-wing Jew, 25-year-old Yigal Amir.

Mr. Amir opposed the Rabin government's land-for-peace deals with the PLO, and said God had ordered him to kill the prime minister.

He and his 27-year-old brother, Hagai, are being questioned by the police.

Critics of the right wing say the shooting was the culmination of a long, divisive campaign of bitter right-wing rhetoric, and yesterday Mr. Rabin's widow joined the criticism.

In interviews with reporters, Leah Rabin accused the leaders of the mainstream right-wing opposition, the Likud Party, of helping bring about the conditions that prompted the killing of her husband.

"Surely I blame them," she said in one televised interview.

"If you ever heard their speeches at the Knesset [Israel's parliament], you would understand what I mean.

"They were very, very violent in their expressions: 'We are selling the country down the drain.' 'There will be no Israel after this peace agreement.' I mean this was wild."

Later she directly attacked Benjamin Netanyahu, the leader of the right-wing Likud.

"There was a Likud rally in Jerusalem not too long ago," she recalled.

"They put the figure of Yitzhak, my husband, in the uniform of a Nazi leader and Mr. Netanyahu was there.

"He later talked against it, but he was there and he didn't stop it."

Her remarks brought a quick response from Mr. Netanyahu, who said that whenever he has heard right-wing protesters shout, "Rabin is a murderer" or "Rabin is a traitor," he has been "forcefully silencing them on every occasion."

"These attempts now to make political hay out of this, to try to say it's the responsibility of the Likud, is like asking whether Lee Harvey Oswald [who assassinated President John F. Kennedy in 1963] was a Republican or a Democrat and then blaming the party," he said.

Those were only the most prominent voices of debate on a day in which well-intentioned calls for unity seemed to be giving way to the anger that prevailed before the shock of the assassination.

Israel Radio reported that outside the West Bank Jewish settlement of Maale Amos someone had hung a sign yesterday saying, "We are all Yigal Amir. No entry to Arabs."

Jerusalem police said that graffitists sprayed the message, "Rabin a Victim of Peace -- Peres the Next in Line" on a city wall, and that Yigal Amir's name was painted at several other locations.

Tel Aviv police said that a national flag and a picture of Mr. Rabin at a small memorial in the nearby Orthodox Jewish town of Bnei Brak had been set afire.

Local radio reported that a political argument at the Tel Aviv square where Mr. Rabin was killed Saturday turned into a fistfight.

The government yesterday began responding against extreme right-wing organizations with the beginnings of what could be a broad crackdown on more virulent forms of dissent.

National police spokesman Eric Bar Hen said that four individuals who had made public statements approving of the assassination were now under investigation.

Justice Minister David Libai initiated legal changes that would make it possible to press charges against anyone who encourages violence or murder.

Avishai Raviv, head of the extremist right-wing organization Eyal, told Israeli Army Radio yesterday by telephone that he was in hiding after having praised the assassination after Mr. Rabin's funeral Monday.

He also admitted that Mr. Amir was a member of Eyal, but said the organization was not involved in the killing.

"We are a legal movement and so I don't know why there's all this pursuit after members of our movement," he said.

It is the instability of this climate that most worries the international community, fearing that a national upheaval in Israel could eventually overturn the Labor Party's tenuous governing coalition.

Mr. Rabin managed to hold together the coalition by the narrowest of margins, and now the task is up to Mr. Peres, hardly a neophyte after a brief tenure as acting prime minister in 1977, then prime minister for two years from 1984-86 in a national unity coalition with Likud.

Soon Mr. Peres must form a new government, a process Mr. Netanyahu said he will not obstruct.

Mr. Peres then will have to decide whether to call for early elections to try and strengthen his majority at a time when the right wing seems to be suffering from a backlash of public opinion.

Yesterday he ducked the question, saying, "For us to win peace is even more important than for us to win the election."

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