Israel Faces Likely Leadership Change Amidst Peace Initiative Likud Leader Benjamin Natanyahu Is Poised to Take Charge

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THE opposition to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and his handling of Arab-Israeli peace negotiations is gaining in momentum in Israel. Benjamin Natanyahu, recently elected Likud leader and author of a new book, "A Place Among Nations" (Bantam), is leading the fight to topple Mr. Rabin, vowing not to surrender strategic territory, even if that means the collapse of the peace process. Mr. Natanyahu argues against major territorial concessions, citing: (a) the strategic need for high ground (b) the lack of any democratic system in the Arab world, and (c) the continued Arab rejection of Israel in principle. Although he correctly predicates Israel's ultimate national security on deterrence and on peace, neither he nor any other Likud leader has explained how they will make peace without major territorial concessions.

On the question of strategic territory, one need not be a military expert to appreciate the value of the territorial depth that the Golan and the West Bank offer especially in a state of war. Even a missile attack that could inflict massive damage to Israel's heartland would still require ground troops to cross such a "buffer zone" to consolidate any military gain.

Under conditions of peace, however, Israeli military experts confirm that the value of strategic territories diminishes considerably. In addition, Israel's military power offers such credible deterrence that the Arabs would be hard-pressed to put it to the test. This is not to suggest, however, that Israel should immediately withdraw its forces and rely on deterrence alone.

The Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai was completed only after Israel secured safety requirements, including the two most advanced air bases in the Negev, permanent demilitarization of the Sinai, and the stationing of United Nations troops to monitor compliance. These and other security steps can be adopted on the Golan and the West Bank. Israeli withdrawal must be done in stages over a period of 10 to 15 years, allowing a full peace to evolve and become a way of life on both sides of the border.

Second, a strong argument can also be made regarding the Arab states' lack of democratic systems, which could make peace tenuous in the face of opposing forces. The Middle East is characterized by despotism, economic disparity, and a lack of political legitimacy. These elements provide a perfect recipe for continued strife and unpredictability. The question is: How long are Natanyahu and the Likud prepared to wait for the Arab states to reach that elusive political maturity? It may take two or three more generations before democratic systems in the Arab states reach a semblance of Western maturity. Even then, their brand of democracy will be quite different from what Natanyahu envisions.

Algeria's brief experiment in democracy gave the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) party a stunning upset victory, capturing more than 60 percent of the national assemblies; they stood to win a decisive majority in the second round had the election not been nullified by a "white coup" led by the defense minister Khaled Nezzar. …