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Netanyahu, Palestinians walk a familiar road

One of my more memorable experiences as a journalist was meeting, in the 1980s, the Israeli colonels _ male and female _ who started the Peace Now movement. It had a considerable influence, for a time, in Israel as well as among some American Jews. The colonels' message was: "A people that rules over another people cannot itself be free."

Each of the Peace Now colonels had fought in Israel's wars _ some in all of them. As I listened to the colonels in Jerusalem and later in New York, it was clear that they were not naive and certainly not pacifists. In emphasizing the need for Palestinian independence, the colonels also stressed that there must be rigid security arrangements so that a Palestinian state could not become a launching pad for invasions of the Jewish state or for subversion.

I had rarely seen such a combination of idealism and pragmatism. The colonels were convinced that unless the Palestinians were set free, the Jewish state would never entirely be free.

The goals of Peace Now greatly influenced Shimon Peres and ultimately that tough military commander and prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. What changed Rabin was the intifada _ the mass resistance by Palestinians to Israel's determination to deny them their own state.

At the beginning of the intifada, Rabin believed he could smash it by force. "Break their bones," he ordered his soldiers. But he came to realize how deep was the Palestinians' desire to rule themselves. As the Israeli commentator Ze'ev Schiff said, "The intifada was Rabin's school."

The crucial question now is whether the new prime minister, Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu, will have to go to the same school before Israel can be truly secure.

Netanyahu is absolutely correct, however, in declaring that no lasting agreement can be made with the Palestinians under the threat _ and actuality _ of terrorism. But granted that Yasser Arafat is hardly a model of trustworthiness, Netanyahu is playing what could be a dangerous game in telling Israelis and the rest of the world that Arafat's Palestinian Authority has been weak in controlling Islamic activists and terrorists.

The Economist, however, quotes from an article in Haaretz _ often called the New York Times of Israel _ about "a meeting between Mr. Netanyahu and Ami Ayalon, the head of Shin Bet, Israel's security service. Mr. Ayalon reportedly told his prime minister that many of Israel's recent successes against (such sources of terrorism as) Hamas and Islamic Jihad could not have occurred without the Palestinian Authority's cooperation and Mr. Arafat's personal authorization."

Netanyahu apparently considers it to his advantage to keep implying that the Palestinians cannot deal with the terrorists among them and therefore cannot be trusted to have their own state.

Indeed, one of the prime minister's absolute preconditions for continuing the peace process is that there will never be an independent Palestinian state. Thus are the seeds of a new intifada sown because, as Rabin learned, the Palestinians' insistence on their liberation is not going to be conquered.

Another Netanyahu precondition _ while he denies he will enter into talks with any preconditions _ is that Jews should be able to live anywhere they want to in Israel. That makes sense if Israel is going to continue to rule over the Palestinians. And that's the prime minister's intention as he indicates there will be more and larger Israeli settlements in the midst of Palestinian populations.

Netanyahu says casually that, anyway, there was a "natural increase" in the settlements under the Labor government. That's true. Most of the families in the settlements have many children, and that accounts for the "natural increase." But Netanyahu may well figure that another way to prevent an independent Palestinian state is to so increase Jewish numbers in what would be the territory of such a state that it will be impossible to dislodge so many settlers.

Furthermore, with the ultimate hawk, Ariel Sharon, in the Cabinet, it will be a virtual certainty that settlements will grow and override Palestinian aspirations.

While in the United States, the prime minister said staunchly: "My mandate is to meet the aspirations of the Jews, not the Palestinians."

Remember what the Israeli colonels said: "A people that rules over another people cannot itself be free."

Nat Hentoff is a nationally renowned authority on the First Amendment and the rest of the Bill of Rights.

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