Plan is a time bomb — with very short fuse

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Election manifestos rarely become best-sellers, and the publication of the Likud platform has evoked little resonance.

This has left room for the fallacy that tells us that the two major Israeli parties have been edging toward consensus. This is inaccurate. There is no democratic nation anywhere in which the contending parties are divided by as deep a gulf as that which separates the Labor and Likud platforms.

The Likud platform is a ticking bomb with a short fuse that could explode into national disaster soon after May 29.

This is because Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu has promised three things: to put "more and more" settlements into the West Bank and Gaza, to declare the River Jordan as Israel's political boundary, and to renew Israel's responsibility for the functions conferred by the Oslo agreements on the Palestinian police. Taken together these three ideas signify the demolition of many of Israel's most cherished hopes.

To introduce new settlements into the West Bank and Gaza at this stage of the peace process would be a transparent attempt to break up any coherent intercommunication between Arab populations and to annul even the fractional degree of independence that the Palestinian nation has won. It would be the first instance in modern history of decolonization in reverse. It is inconceivable that this would result in anything less than the savage intifada that Knesset member Ze'ev "Benny" Begin has already predicted. Israel would face this dilemma as a sorely divided nation.

Not for a single day have Israelis failed to record their overwhelming support of the peace process. The bitterness of its collapse would bequeath to Israelis a poignant sense of opportunities squandered.

Another result would be the serious erosion of the Israeli-American alliance. The policies of Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres in creating the widest breach ever made in the hermetic wall of Arab and Moslem hostility have overshadowed another of their achievements: They have been the architects of an alliance with a superpower the likes of which Jewish history, in its long saga of travail, has never known.

The settlement issue has always been the tormenting nerve of the American-Israeli relationship. No American statesman and very few American citizens have ever liberated themselves from the notion expressed by President Truman's historic gesture in recognizing Israeli sovereignty in a part, not the whole, of Eretz Yisrael.

When I presented my credentials to Truman in 1950, he said with typical simplicity: "Your people succeeded because your leaders asked for something that was practical and your opponents did not." By "your leaders," he meant Chaim Weizmann and David Ben-Gurion, and by "something practical," he meant partition.

An undivided, totally Jewish Israel has never been anything but an unrealizable dream. The idea that Israel can now return to police the territories from which an Israeli government (under Menachem Begin) decreed the "withdrawal of the Israeli military and civil administration" carries eccentricity to unacceptable limits. As the immortal Sam Goldwyn once said: "Anyone who goes to consult a psychiatrist should have his head examined."

The record of the Palestinian Authority in preventing and punishing terrorism has been less than satisfactory, but the terrorist tragedies of the coastal road, Lod airport, Ma'alot, the Olympic Games murders and many others occurred when our own forces were controlling security in the territories. In those dark days there were no demonstrations against the Israeli government of the day. There was a spirit of national solidarity.

Nor is it only the United States and the Palestinians that would be affronted by a new Israeli government seeking to block any space for Palestinian freedom. Egypt, Jordan, the Palestinian Authority, Morocco, Mauritania, Tunisia, Oman, Qatar, other Arab states in North Africa and the Gulf, and Turkey would be unable to maintain or strengthen relations with an Israel that would hold the Palestinian population in sullen and permanent tutelage.

The Likud leadership appears to believe that the Palestinians can and should be denied two things: equal citizenship in Israel and a chance to separate into a jurisdiction of their own. But if both of these outlets are blocked as they are in the Likud platform, the only Palestinian recourse is more likely to be despairing than peaceful.

Between the two candidates for the premiership, what strikes the eye is the contrast of resumes. Peres once compensated for America's defection by producing French aircraft, founded Israel's military industry, built Israel's nuclear deterrent and, as finance minister, astronomically reduced Israel's galloping inflation.

It would require a strong imagination to envisage a less experienced and resourceful rival carrying out such missions. The possibility that a Likud leadership could ignore its own platform is much reduced by the strong presence of determined zealots near the top of the Likud list.

The writer is a former Israeli foreign minister. This piece first appeared in The Jerusalem Post.