Disputes threaten Rabin's government Israeli leader tries to protect coalition


JERUSALEM -- The hopeful expectations of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's new government are being battered by Arab-Jewish violence and internal religious disputes.

Mr. Rabin scrambled yesterday between meetings to try to shore up his strained government coalition and deal with the increasingly menacing violence in Israel and its occupied territories.

A booby-trap bomb on the road to a Jewish settlement north of Jerusalem exploded beside a van Saturday night, killing a 57-year-old Israeli woman and injuring nine other people.

It was a rare use of such a deadly weapon in the Palestinian uprising, a fact quickly noted by critics of the government's attempts to negotiate with the Palestinians.

"They are bringing Lebanon to Israel," said Ahron Domb, a spokesman for a Jewish settlers' organization. "Every day we bury victims in Israel. The decision-makers tie [the Army's] hands and are having a love affair with the terrorists and murderers."

Three Israeli civilians were killed last week, and angry Jews attacked Arab drivers and stoned Arab cars over the weekend. Palestinians have staged increasingly large demonstrations this month, capped Saturday by a huge march in Jerusalem at the funeral of a prisoner who died of heart failure a few days after Palestinian inmates ended a hunger strike.

In the last week, 12 Palestinians have died, most in clashes with the Army.

"There is no government, and no control," Elyakim Lebanon, a member of the Judea and Samaria Rabbis' Committee, complained on Israel Army Radio yesterday.

Mr. Rabin's government, which Wednesday marks its 100th day, seems in danger of unraveling from internal squabbling. On July 14, he took over from the right-wing Likud government with a patchwork of liberals, moderates, Arabs and Orthodox Jews, promising to reach peace agreements with Israel's neighbors.

Yesterday, Mr. Rabin was trying hard to mend a severe split between the coalition's liberal wing and Shas, his religious party. Shas is under severe pressure from other religious groups to quit unless Mr. Rabin ousts a liberal education minister, Shulamit Aloni.

Mr. Rabin met with Mrs. Aloni and other members of her Meretz Party yesterday. He told them the coalition is in danger of collapsing within two weeks, according to Israel Radio. But any changes apparently will come after tomorrow's end of a monthlong series of Jewish holidays.

In recent days, Mr. Rabin has met with a small right-wing party and another religious party, meetings seen as attempts to bring them into his coalition.

To do so might increase his power base, but it also risks the resignation of the Meretz wing. The loss of any faction could topple his government, which holds only a slim majority in the Knesset.

The division in the coalition added to the government's vulnerability to criticism because of the increased violence and the sputtering Middle East peace negotiations.

Mr. Rabin has risked much for progress in the peace talks, which will resume Wednesday in Washington. But after initial encouraging signs in negotiations with both Palestinians and Syria, the talks have regressed to mutual recriminations.

Mr. Rabin and his ministers have argued that the demonstrations and increased confrontations by Palestinians are attempts to disrupt the peace talks.

But his government is worried that the conflicts will further undermine its support. The Army has flooded the Gaza Strip with increased patrols, and Police Minister Moshe Shahal yesterday announced the recruitment of 100 new officers to guard key intersections.

Mr. Shahal warned against a "panicky attitude."

Chief of Staff Ehud Barak vowed to crack down on the violence. "We are in a constant battle in which the enemy has made some successes," he told the newspaper Yediot. But, he promised, "arrests and searches will be made until we find these murderers."

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