Troubles for Netanyahu Breaking scandal: Israeli domestic politics may delay peace process.

April 18, 1997

WHETHER AMERICANS would consider the allegations against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu an authentic scandal merely the hurly-burly of Israeli politics does not matter. The charge that Israeli police asked the public prosecutor to bring is the most serious against a prime minister in Israel's history. Whether the prosecution goes forward or not, the fact that matters went so far transforms Israeli politics.

Mr. Netanyahu is in hot water. Under a new Israeli provision, he was directly elected for a term but must form his cabinet in the time-honored parliamentary way. Though he leads the main hawkish party, Likud, his coalition depends on small parties to the right of him. Aryeh Deri, leader of the Shas party which has a following among Sephardic Israelis from North Africa, has been on trial for violating campaign financing laws.

The new allegation is that Mr. Netanyahu appointed an unqualified attorney general, Roni Bar-On, who would plea bargain Mr. Deri's troubles in return for Shas support in the cabinet for Israeli withdrawal from Hebron. Mr. Bar-On was out in two days under a barrage of criticism that he was unqualified. The police compiled a 995-page report. It is supposed to be secret, but in Israel, little is.

Perhaps the West, the Palestinians and all who wish to see a lasting accommodation between Israel and the Palestinians would wish a grand coalition of Israel's two main parties, Likud and the opposition Labor. Such a government could speak for most Israelis in any agreement with the PLO it might make. Neither Mr. Netanyahu nor his elderly Labor nemesis, Shimon Peres, speaks for more than half. Such a coalition, which Mr. Peres proposed, is not immediately in sight, even with this political crisis. Other arrangements would have to fail first.

U.S. negotiator Dennis Ross has been shuttling furiously trying to restart the dialogue between Mr. Netanyahu and the Palestinian Authority president, Yasser Arafat. Little can be expected, however, while Israel is paralyzed or preoccupied with its political crisis. Weak governments don't make peace. Israel's rule by law is being played out, and should be instructive to neighbors in states lacking such niceties. Israel's negotiating partners must show patience over this. They have no choice.

Pub Date: 4/18/97

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