The Terror Master

Fighting Terrorism: How Democracies Defeat Domestic and International Terrorists

by Benjamin Netanyahu
Farrar Straus and Giroux, 153 pp., $17.00

If direct elections for prime minister were held today, and the candidates were Yitzhak Rabin and Benjamin Netanyahu, whom would you vote for?” This question was asked of a sample of 501 Israelis in early August. The answers were: Rabin, 41 percent; Netanyahu, 41 percent; undecided, 10 percent; do not intend to vote, 8 percent.

The question itself is new in Israel. In the next elections, scheduled for the fall of 1996, the political system will have changed, and voters for the first time will directly elect the prime minister as well as the parliament. At the same time, in contrast to the American system, in Israel the prime minister will continue to be part of the parliament. The arrangement is unprecedented in Israel, and, so far as I know, anywhere else, and no one is certain whether it will work. Rabin and Netanyahu both support the idea of direct elections for prime minister. Each is sure it will work in his favor. Both cannot be right.

These recent polls are important not so much for what they say about future elections, as for what they tell us about current Israeli politics. And what they say about Benjamin Netanyahu, whom Israelis call Bibi, is that he could be the next Israeli prime minister. The polls have forced even people who refuse to take Bibi seriously as a person to take him seriously as a candidate.

The Oslo Accord that was signed in September 1993 by the PLO and the Israeli government stipulated that peace would be made in two stages. In the first, Israel was to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and the town of Jericho in the West Bank, and a Palestinian Authority was to be set up in both places. While not all the provisions of the accord concerning this stage have been carried out, Israel has indeed withdrawn from Gaza and Jericho. Most of the details of the second stage have now been worked out, following an agreement on its basic outline reached on July 4. If this agreement is carried out, Israel’s security forces will withdraw from six towns of the West Bank, and free elections for the Palestinian Authority will be held.

When the Oslo Accord was signed on the White House lawn, it had widespread support from Israelis. Polls showed that 61 percent of those surveyed favored it, with only 31 percent opposed. But support for the accord, as well as for Rabin’s government, has eroded with the terrorist attacks by Hamas and Jihad. Even late in 1994, before the murderous suicide bombing on Dizengoff Street in Tel Aviv (Israel’s Broadway), which killed twenty-two bus passengers, 60 percent of Israelis expressed their support of the accord. But after a second suicide bombing, at the Beit Lid bus terminal some thirty miles north of Tel Aviv in January 1995, which killed twenty-two Israeli soldiers, support for the accord fell to 35 percent. Polls conducted in early February, showed 52 percent for …

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Letters

Correction October 19, 1995