PLO group's admission of attack undermines pact with Israel Arafat urged to condemn Jew's slaying

JERUSALEM — JERUSALEM -- The Israeli Army announced that members of the Palestine Liberation Organization's Fatah group killed a Jewish settler last month, further burdening the government's efforts to push forward the peace process.

Israeli opponents here immediately seized on the news as proof of their claim that the Israel-PLO accord is flawed, and put the government of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin on the defensive.


Mr. Rabin, on an official trip to Washington, acknowledged the news suggested a "dangerous violation" of commitments by the PLO. In Jerusalem, supporters of the accord scrambled for political cover while opponents demanded the prime minister's resignation.

Neither the accord nor Mr. Rabin's job is seriously endangered. But in the last few weeks, both Palestinian and Jewish opponents of peace have made determined efforts to sabotage the Sept. 13 agreement for Israeli withdrawal from parts of the West Bank and Gaza.


Each new attack on Israelis by Palestinians, and counterattack on Palestinians by Jewish settlers, has added to the weight being born by Mr. Rabin and Yasser Arafat, the PLO chairman, in their efforts to convince their respective constituencies they are on the right course.

The announcement yesterday implicating Fatah members in the Oct. 29 killing of a settler was particularly damaging to Mr. Rabin. One of the chief arguments used by the Israeli prime minister is that Mr. Arafat's organization had completely ceased their attacks.

The Hamas fundamentalist organization, which is not a partner to the agreement, had originally claimed responsibility for the attack. But the Army said five Palestinians arrested this week had confessed they abducted the settler, Haim Mizrachi, 30, and stabbed him to death before burning him in his car.

The five men, from the Ramallah area north of Jerusalem, said they acted on their own without instructions from the PLO headquarters in Tunis, Tunisia, the Army said. A local leader of the PLO, Faisal al-Husseini, yesterday condemned the group and said they had violated PLO orders.

But that is not sufficient for Israeli critics of the plan. The largest opposition party, the Likud, called for the resignation of Mr. Rabin. Even ruling Labor Party ministers were quick to register their outrage.

Housing Minister Beyamin Ben-Eliezer said he was "stunned" and said Israel would have a serious problem unless the PLO condemned the act. Environmental Minister Yossi Sarid, a member of the liberal Meretz Party, told Israel Radio the PLO must "prove to the public" the acts are unacceptable.

In Washington, Mr. Rabin and President Clinton joined the bandwagon calling for a condemnation of terrorism by Mr. Arafat. At a news conference, Mr. Rabin called for such a statement "vigorously, openly and immediately."

"We all recognize he may not have total control over everyone who acts in the name of Fatah," Mr. Clinton added, speaking of Mr. Arafat. "But he is now bound by the clear terms of the agreement to condemn it."


The calls were something of a political straw man. In his letter to Mr. Rabin on Sept. 9, Mr. Arafat already said, "The PLO renounces the use of terrorism and other acts of violence." Mr. Husseini, the chief Palestinian delegate from the occupied territories to the peace talks, has publicly denounced Palestinian attacks.

Furthermore, the transfer of any authority to the PLO in order to stop such attacks in the occupied territories does not occur until Dec. 13. When the PLO tried to send uniformed police officers into the streets in Jericho last month, Israel promptly arrested them.

Demands for a declaration by Mr. Arafat are intended to appease Jewish critics. But such a public show of condemnation by Mr. Arafat would put him in difficulties with hard-liners among the Palestinians, who already accuse him of giving in to the Israelis.

Palestinian rejectionists were said to be behind at least one of two additional attacks on Israelis yesterday. An Israeli who came to the Gaza Strip to hire laborers was stabbed in the back and chest by an attacker belonging to Islamic Jihad, military sources said. In Jerusalem's Old City, a soldier was slightly injured by two men who fled after stabbing him.

Israeli soldiers killed one Palestinian and wounded another at checkpoints sealing off the occupied territories. One man was shot in the head at a roadblock between Jerusalem and Ramallah. The army first said he refused to stop, and they shot him. They later said he stopped but fled when they searched his car.

Another Palestinian was shot and wounded in the Gaza Strip. The army said he tried to evade a checkpoint.


Despite the recent violence on both sides, Mr. Rabin repeated yesterday that the accord will go forward. "We and the Palestinians have passed the point of no return in our efforts to implement the agreement," he said.

Mr. Clinton signaled his sensitivity to Israeli sentiment in his comments yesterday, saying the fight for Israeli public opinion is crucial.

"I believe that a big key toward achieving peace is maintaining support with it the state of Israel for the peace process, and for the risk it entails," the president said.