Israel's right faces a future of desperation

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The Independent Online
Leaning back against an aerial photograph of 'Eretz Israel' (the Land of Israel), Yechiel Lieter declared that he, for one, was prepared to speak frankly of the prospects for a right-wing comeback in Israel. 'Unless the Likud party come out soon and declare a policy of annexation, they are dead,' said Mr Lieter, a rising star among Israel's settlers.

'What else are they going to offer us? A slower autonomy than Labour? The average Yitzhak doesn't know what autonomy is. All he hears is that the Arabs are going to have 20,000 policemen, which we all know is an army.

'And you know what? Nobody should worry about cutting the Uncle Sam umbilical chord. We would be less shackled without it.'

As Mr Lieter's patter shows, they are bringing in the hard cases to stoke up the campaign against Yitzhak Rabin's new Labour government. The campaign is launched today, with the first mass protest since the right-wing Likud's defeat in June.

The organisers say the rally, with speakers from right-wing parties, including Likud, will demonstrate the opposition's true strength. More important, perhaps, it will demonstrate how Likud will fight in opposition. Since its defeat it has sunk into confusion and rivalry, with a battle to succeed Yitzhak Shamir, and there has been no clear statement of opposition policy.

With two leadership candidates, Ariel Sharon and Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking at today's rally, there will be some indication of whether Likud will move further to the right to counter Mr Rabin, or whether it will choose to fight on the centre ground.

Mr Lieter's advice is that radicalisation and support for full- blown annexation is the only alternative to Mr Rabin's proposals for Palestinian autonomy. The question is: do such voices matter any more?

Mr Lieter, born in Scranton, Pennsylvania, cut his settler teeth in Hebron, in the heart of the West Bank and the 'mother of political settlements', as he puts it. He has since been promoted to head of the foreign-affairs desk of the Council of Jewish Settlements for Judea and Samaria. Under the Likud government the council was part of the establishment: building Israel's future with the government, guided by the vision of a 'greater Eretz Israel'. But the good days are over now.

'Badly hit? You're kidding. This is shitsville,' said Mr Lieter, sitting in the council's Jerusalem office, where the bills are piling up. 'The tap has been turned off. We are not even consulted on decisions any more. We are the scapegoats for everything.'

The settler leaders are trying to regroup. They are encouraging those with private money to keep on building; They have hired a law firm to fight Mr Rabin's settlement curb. They have established a foreign desk to argue their case abroad and launched a fund-raising campaign in the United States. Mr Lieter said: 'Once the Likud gets its act together, once it has a new leader, then the boomerang will start.' But there is a sense of desperation in his every word.

The problem is that even these hardliners seem to sense that the tide has turned against them, probably for good. Even yesterday it was announced that private building in the occupied territories would now need permission from the military authorities.

They can continue to stir opposition, even violent opposition, creating serious problems for Mr Rabin. But not even the Likud party will be able to give them the support they want: the election showed the voters have moved to the centre and this is where Likud will have to fight if it wants to survive, say most political observers.

An independent Palestinian state 'will only be an interim stage lasting less than a decade before the setting-up of a confederation between Jordan, Palestine and Israel,' the Palestinian leader Faisal al-Husseini said in the Israeli Ha'aretz, AFP reports.

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