Bad choice in Israel


A GOVERNMENT that Israelis agree is the most right wing in their nation's history has just become more so.

Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir has brought into his cabinet Rehavam Zeevi, leader of the tiny Homeland (Moledet) Party, which has two seats in the 120-member Knesset. The party's platform calls for expelling the entire population of Palestinian Arabs -- "transferring" is the preferred euphemism -- from the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip to Jordan or other countries.

That idea, until recently embraced by only a small band of extremists, has risen in popular favor in the three years that the intifada in the occupied territories has gone on, and under the stress of Iraqi missile attacks on Israeli cities.

It is noteworthy that even some of Shamir's closest and no-less hard-line colleagues opposed the invitation to Zeevi, who joins the cabinet as minister without portfolio.

Shamir seems to have acted mainly to broaden his majority in the Knesset to 66. But the political cost of doing that could prove to be great, eroding much of the international goodwill Israel has garnered for its restraint in the face of brutal Iraqi provocations. Zeevi's exclusionary program now has an aura of respectability and political legitimacy that it never before enjoyed.

The timing of this opening to the far right was no accident. Jerusalem's relations with Washington and with the European Community have improved greatly in the three weeks since the war to reverse Iraq's aggression began. Western complaints about Israel's treatment of Arabs under its control have abated as attention has turned to the Persian Gulf.

Passions in Israel, victimized by a war not of its making, understandably run high, and Palestinians who cheer each missile attack on Tel Aviv are not endearing themselves to those they live alongside. But the Palestinian issue will still have to be addressed after the war ends, and a civilized and humane solution is the only acceptable outcome. Bringing an advocate of Palestinian expulsion into the cabinet clearly seems to be the antithesis of that goal.

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