Two roads diverge in Mideast

Either way it goes, Israel's election nailbiter will have dramatic impact

Published May 29, 1996 7:41PM (EDT)

It's a long night in Israel. With exit polls and early returns at first favoring incumbent Prime Minister Shimon Peres, and then Likud leader Benyamin Netanyahu, the election remained too close to call. The same thing could be said for the future of the Middle East peace process.

If Peres wins, it could mean a dramatic fast-forward. Plans for the
first 100 days of a new Peres government envision making rapid progress on both the Palestinian and Syrian fronts.

According to the weekly Jerusalem Report, Peres would first complete the Israeli army's redeployment from the West Bank city of Hebron -- which is home to 400 militant Jewish settlers. Then Peres would move on to talks with the Palestinians over the so-called "final status" issues -- final borders, the disposition of the Jewish settlements in the occupied territories, the return of Arab refugees, and the future of Jerusalem.

Israeli newspapers have reported that Peres' chief aide, Yossi Beilin, and PLO chairman Yasser Arafat's deputy, Abu Mazen, already have hammered out a deal in which Israel would annex approximately 11 percent of the West Bank, which would include about 120,000 of the 140,000 settlers. The rest of the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip, would become a Palestinian state.

The Jerusalem Report says that Peres' 100-day "team," headed by Beilin, has already compiled final status blueprints and a plan to compensate settlers who choose not to live under Palestinian rule. Ehud Sprinzak, a Hebrew University expert on Israel's radical right, has been asked to develop plans to deal with possible violent resistance by settlers to the agreement.

With Syria, Peres will try first to negotiate an Israeli withdrawal from the strip of southern Lebanon it has occupied as a "security zone" since 1978. Peres' condition: Syria and its client Lebanese government disarm and rein in the Hezbollah guerrillas whose activities provoked Israel's massive bombardment last month. According to the Report and other Israeli sources, Peres hopes a deal here would give impetus to negotiations with Syria over the Golan Heights.

As a security backstop, Peres would like to conclude a formal defense treaty with the United States, which Peres regards as the ultimate guarantor of Israel's long-term safety against sworn enemies like Iran. One concrete possibility: a permanent U.S. naval base at the Israeli port of Haifa.

Very little, if any, of this is likely to happen should Netanyahu emerge victorious. In that case, the peace process is likely to be put on hold while Netanyahu reviews the entire effort. That means halting the withdrawal from Hebron, slowing final status negotiations -- which are scheduled to be complete by 1999 under the original peace accords -- and resuming Jewish settlement activity in both the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Netanyahu, 45, has put far greater emphasis on "security" rather than "peace" during the campaign. He heads a party that still believes in the God-given right to all the biblical lands of Israel, including the West Bank. He has been openly contemptuous of Yasser Arafat, and continues to compare the PLO to the Nazis. A former commando in Israel's most elite miltary unit, Netanyahu has said he is prepared to send Israeli troops back into the West Bank and Gaza Strip to eradicate any terrorist threat.

Netanyahu's first move, as promised in his campaign, will be to halt the army's redeployment from Hebron, and demand that its status be added to the final status talks -- a violation of the original Oslo accords. He could also resume Jewish settlement within the occupied territories within the first 100 days of his government. Among the options he is reportedly considering is a $3.7 billion development plan drawn up by the settlers.

A Netanyahu victory sends chills up the spine of Palestinian and Arab leaders, who are scheduled to hold a summit meeting on the Mideast peace process next month. It will also fray nerves at the Clinton White House, which has staked considerable political capital on Peres and the peace process. Netanyahu, like all new Israeli prime ministers, would make an early Washington trip, signaling that the U.S.-Israeli economic and strategic relationship remains on an even keel, despite the differences. Netanyahu will also be hoping that fellow conservative Bob Dole -- with whom he has a warm and close relationship -- will emulate his success in November.

Desert Sturm

Achtung, Snoopy--It's the Red Baron of the New World Order!


Advance warning came from somewhere in the bowels of the
Internet, where latter-day Paul Reveres feed into the alt.conspiracy
newsgroup. The Germans are coming! Wait .... The Germans are already here! Huns of the U.N. army, come to force our GIs to wear blue berets!
On May 1, the German Air Force (yes, it's still called the Luftwaffe) opened a training center at
Holloman Air Force Base near Alamogordo, N.M. Since then,
conspiracy theorists have flooded the Internet and talk radio
claiming that the event -- the first time a permanent foreign military base has been established in the U.S. -- marks the start of the colonization of America by the New World Order. More than 60
members of Congress have phoned the Pentagon to pass on their
constituents' beefs, including assertions that President
Clinton and the U.N. are enacting a plan to herd red-blooded Americans into concentration camps.
"If there was a militia uprising in this country, it would be convenient to have a German army on your soil to do a job for you," observed Bob Heckler, a talk radio host on KMPC in Los Angeles.
Others are more blunt. "Fucking Nazis," opined Robert Ireland, a former door-gunner in Vietnam, in an online chat group. "What the hell are they doing on our soil?"
What the Germans are doing, at least on the surface, is leasing a small section of
Holloman for $40 million, rising to $100 million a year. In exchange, the Germans get to test their F-4 Phantoms and Tornado fighter jets in the blue skies of New Mexico, a state roughly the size of Germany with 1.5 million inhabitants. Germany's population is 80 million, its weather awful, its citizens reluctant to allow practice flights over their villages since a gruesome 1986 crash into a crowd watching an airshow at a U.S. Air Force base.
The U.S. Air Force, which has trained in the Southwest for decades with foreign armies -- including the Germans -- sees the deal as pure peace dividend. "This is a win-win situation for Germany and us," says Maj. Clem Gaines, a U.S. Air Force spokesman. "Germany is a strong NATO ally and they're doing training they can't get in their own country."
Gaines was at a loss to explain the rabid reaction. "It certainly did catch us off guard. The Germans were somewhat surprised as well," he said. The spokesman for the German embassy declined to comment.
On the other hand, folks in Alamogordo, population
30,000, seem quite happy to have 900 well-paid German troops and their families propping up real estate values and soaking up microbrews in the local pubs. "They add a real good element to the community," says city manager Bob Stockwell. He and Col. Eckhard Sowada, commander of the New Mexico-based Luftwaffe wing, joined U.S. and German families in a non-alcoholic hoedown the other
night at Chaps, a local Country & Western bar.
A CNN reporter covering the May 1 welcome ceremony at Holloman, attended by Defense Secretary William Perry and German Defense Minister Volker Ruehe, may have kicked the hysteria into high gear when he reported -- incorrectly-- that the German flag was hoisted higher than the American flag. Adding to the outrage of red-blooded militia types, according to Myrna Shinbaum of the Anti-Defamation League in New York, are the rantings of anti-Semitic conspiracy theorists such as short-wave radio host Tom Valentine of the Liberty Lobby.
"As they spin out this New World Order stuff they eventually get to a Jewish world control," says Shinbaum. "And they tend to hate the German government because it has been pursuing neo-Nazis with vigor." Gary Lauck, the American "Farmbelt Fuhrer," is currently on trial in Hamburg, Germany for mailing tons of Nazi propaganda from his Lincoln, Nebraska home.
Conspiracy buffs are right about one thing. Germany's military is
dedicated to the multinationalist spirit of the U.N. German soldiers march in European peacekeeping brigades under French, U.S. and Dutch command, and Germany has offered to take part in future U.N. peacekeeping operations.
But don't count on German pilots to strafe American cattle ranchers at the behest of Boutros-Boutros Ghali or the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Its troops have scarcely fired a shot in anger in 50 years. In "inner leadership" workshops, they are taught to follow their consciences when given unjust orders.

Quote of the day

Death with a smile

"Mainly, I went into mortuary science for the service aspects. I wanted to walk people through the grieving process. I wanted a job which was unpredictable, getting calls in the middle of the night and never knowing what each day will be like. I left the banking business because it was moving away from the services aspects and focusing more on sales and marketing."

-- Vicki Campbell, a former bank teller, who recently graduated from Hudson Valley (N.Y.) Community College's mortuary science program.

By Jonathan Broder

Jonathan Broder is Salon's Washington correspondent.

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