Unsettled Israel


Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was right to cut short his visit to the United States after seeing President Clinton in order to take charge of the unrest in Israel. Left to seethe, the strife undermines the peace process and the state itself.

When Inspector General Yacov Turner of the police urges Israelis with licensed guns to carry them, when Police Minister Moshe Shahal vows revenge for every Israeli killed by an Arab, Israel has lost its poise. And when Yossi Sarid, the dovish environment minister, counters by urging that the Gaza Strip be turned over to the PLO, Israel has lost common direction.

Arab terrorists who randomly shoot Israelis score their greatest success when some Israelis return the fire in kind, as has happened. The very large shooting of Palestinian rock-throwing youth by soldiers shows that the unrest is not contained, even if most of the wounds were of the legs. Leadership is needed to bring calm and confidence to the country, and only Mr. Rabin can provide it.

The PLO for its part is wrongly hostile to Israel's predicament, threatening to boycott peace talks, pretending to ignore that Israel has a legitimate security concern, even while Egypt and Algeria are handling Islamic militants in more draconian fashion. The PLO should not make common cause with Hamas terrorists who are trying to manipulate events to deny the PLO a future in the region.

Mr. Rabin and President Clinton were planning Monday for the resumption of the peace talks on April 20. This is a lifeline to the PLO, in its new, accommodationist guise. A peace settlement, autonomy on the West Bank and Gaza, and the departure of the Israeli army from Palestinian streets are what the PLO-connected negotiators can deliver to the Palestinian people that Hamas terrorists never can.

Israel has every right and duty to protect Israeli citizens from terrorism. That is not likely to be accomplished by having a fifth of the population walking about with guns. Nor is it to be accomplished by "revenge," interpreted as killing some Palestinian who hadn't done the original crime. Israel's government should defend peace and order at home with the sympathy of other governments, and it can only do that by countering the domestic temptation to hysteria and panic.

Every legitimate party to Middle East relationships has an interest in not letting terrorists determine the emotional climate or the fate of peace talks. But that is what is in danger of happening.

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