day, the prime minister-elect re-
mained as vague as possible. All he
said of his foreign policy was that his
government would "act to strength-
en" the peaceful relations with the
Kingdom of Jordan and with Egypt,
"continue the negotiations with the
Palestinians," and move to advance
peace treaties with "other Arab
The word "Syria" never passed his
lips. Nor was there a hint about He-
bron, the second redeployment in the
West Bank required by Oslo II, or
Yassir Arafat, the PLO, or even the
Instead, he stressed domestic is-
sues, including the institution of a
"free economy" that would close the
social and economic gaps in Israeli so-
Above all, he stated that, "I see my
first mission as prime minister as
binding up the divisions, closing the
gaps, reducing the tensions and
strengthening the unity of the people.
... Peace begins, first of all, at home."
One immediate problem is to calm
the fears of non-observant Israelis.
The religious parties gained 23 Knes-
set seats, making them a powerful
factor in any coalition. There is con-
cern that the religious bloc will push
laws that limit the civil rights and
freedoms of the non-observant.
Mr. Netanyahu has limited his re-
sponse. He called for cultivating. tol-
erance and mutual respect "while
clearly preserving the status quo."
However, various members of the
three religious parties quickly called
for far-reaching changes, including
closing the many shopping outlets
that flourish on Saturdays.
The real question is whether Mr.
Netanyahu is hinting at a return to
the "status quo ante," namely, the
situation prior to the Labor govern-
ment assuming power in 1992. Or
does he mean a freeze on today's re-
The point is far from minor. In the
past four years, the Supreme Court
has ruled that civil decisions take
precedence in a clash between them
and religious court rulings. Equally
infuriating to the religious parties,
the court has declared that identifi-
cation as a Conservative or Reform
Jew cannot be grounds for barring
candidates from local Religious
Councils and that (unless the law is
amended) the Orthodox religious es-
tablishment cannot continue its mo-
nopoly on conversions.
Also, the Orthodox rabbinical es-
tablishment has lost its monopoly
over burial. The Labor government
allocated land for non-religious ceme-
teries — essentially to solve the
grievous need for a final resting place
for the many immigrants from the
former Soviet Union whom the rab-
binate do not recognize as Jews.
The secular leanings of most new
immigrants (represented by Natan
Sharansky's Yisrael B'aliyah Party),
together with the stand of the Third
Way (which demands strict adher-
ence to the present "status quo") will
be a counterweight to the religious
It also will make the coalition bar-
gaining even stickier.
A likely compromise will have the
demands of the religious parties (pos-
sibly including limiting the powers of
the High Court) addressed gradual-
ly. Such a strategy, though probably
disappointing to the more militant of
the religious politicians, will forestall
an early bitter outcry by the secular
Ultimately, it also will prove bet-
ter for the religious. Once ensconced
in their ministries, the leaders of Yis-
rael B'aliyah and the Third Way will
be less ready to bolt the government
over these issues.
But the unknowns remain. Will
Mr. Netanyahu adjust the moderate
posture he has assumed in the past
months and revert to a more hawk-
ish stand? Will he stick to the agree-
ments signed with the Palestinians,
find ways to wiggle out of them, or
perhaps simply stall them to death?
And how will he fulfill his promise
to be prime minister of "all of the peo-
ple" in a sorely divided nation? ❑
H ebron' s Heart
ERIC SILVER SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH NEWS
he 150,000 Arabs and 450 Jews
locked in mutual animosity in
this burial place of their common
ancestor, Abraham, agree on
only one thing: Binyamin Netanyahu's
Eric Silver is a contributing writer for
the Jerusalem Report.
The non-compromise talk already is coming from Arabs and Jews on the West Bank.
first test will be whether he honors Israel's
signed commitment to yield all but a tiny
Jewish enclave here to Palestinian leader
Yassir Arafat, however unpalatable it may
be to the right-wing and religious voters
who put him in power.
"If Mr. Netanyahu doesn't redeploy
from Hebron," said the veteran Arab may-
or, Mustafa Natshe, "it means he doesn't
want to go forward with the peace process,
whatever he may say, Then our people
will despair. They will find a different way
to struggle for their rights. We shall see
a new intifada."
From the other side: "It would be un-
bearable," said Noam Arnon, the settlers'
black-bearded spokesman, "for Netanyahu
to evacuate Hebron when even Shimon
Peres agreed it would be too dangerous.
I'm sure he won't do it.
"We are asking the new government to
let us build houses here for thousands of
Jews," he said. "The old government put
us in a ghetto with no chance of develop-
ment or expansion. We're not asking for
government money, just that they stop
choking us like this."
The army was to pull out from this last
West Bank site still under Israeli occu-
pation in mid-March. But Prime Minis-