In late October, Israeli security officials said the Palestinian Authority, in an effort to improve relations with Hamas, had in recent weeks freed 38 Hamas and Islamic Jihad activists, including Haani Mohammed Hassan Rahim, who planned a March 1996 suicide bombing in Tel Aviv which killed 13 and injured dozens. Haled Dawib, linked to a Hamas bomb factory discovered near Bethlehem in July, was also released.
The British government has stymied proposals that Israel and the Palestinian Authority join the Commonwealth. Foreign Office Minister Derek Fatchett told the Jewish Chronicle in October that the idea, which has been discussed at top level, was "premature". Fatchett had addressed a Commonwealth Jewish Council dinner in London, at which Israeli envoy Moshe Raviv said that he would recommend membership for his country. But the minister cautioned that before Israel and the Palestinians discussed membership, "we should first work towards a situation where Israelis and Palestinians can peacefully live together cheek by jowl". He stressed Whitehall's acknowledgment that Israel's internal political system made the country a good candidate for membership. Israel (including areas now under PA control) was ruled under British mandate from 1920 to 1948.
An advisor to PLO chairman Yasser Arafat, Basam Abu Sharif, alleged in October that Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu had given direct orders to military experts to plan the assassination of senior PA figures, including Arafat himself. Sharif told the PA newspaper Al-Hayat Al-Jadidah the killings would aim "to sabotage any Palestinian attempt to prevent land expropriations for the settlements and an increase in the number of their residents". (Oct 24). Meanwhile, the PA continues to deny that Arafat's health is failing.
The second anniversary of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, in early November, found Israeli society as divided as ever over his death and the reasons behind it. Left-wingers continued to blame the right-wing for his murder, while the right accused the left of monopolising and exploiting the tragedy for political gain. A right-wing Jewish law student, Yigal Amir, is serving a life sentence for killing the Labour prime minister. PM Binyamin Netanyahu still faces accusations relating to the fact he addressed a rally months before the assassination at which some protestors displayed a poster depicting Rabin in Nazi uniform. That the poster concerned was reportedly brought along by an agent provocateur working for the Shin Bet intelligence service has further blurred the picture. Also fuelling the division are recent news reports on claims of a conspiracy in the murder. The allegations suggest that, among other things, Rabin was aware of a plot against his life, and ordered that the bullets in Amir's gun be exchanged for blanks (by a Shin Bet agent who had infiltrated right-wing groups by pretending to be even more extreme than his comrades). However, the theory goes, Rabin's deputy, Shimon Peres, and senior intelligence officers had conspired to ensure the bullets were live, and that Rabin would thus be killed. While not expressing support for the theory, several government ministers have called for an official inquiry into the claims, which Peres has called a "blood libel".
Israel's population at the close of the Jewish year 5757 stood at 5,863,000-- up from 5,7 million a year ago. Of that number, 4,702,200 (80,2 per cent) are Jews, 872,000 (14,9 per cent) are Muslims, 190,000 (3,2 per cent) are Christians and 100,000 (1,7 per cent) are Druse and others. Sixty-two per cent of the population growth was natural--more births than deaths--and the rest from immigration. Proportionally, the breakdown of Israeli citizens is roughly the same as it was a year ago, when it stood at 80,8 per cent Jewish, 14,6 per cent Muslim, 2,9 per cent Christian and 1,7 per cent Druse and others.
Under the slogan "Boycott the hotbeds of fanaticism", the left-wing "peace" group Gush Shalom is spearheading a campaign to boycott goods made in Jewish communities in Judea-Samaria, on the basis that "Every shekel you pay for a product of the settlements strengthens the settlers and their extremist leaders". Gush Shalom compiled a list of food and other products manufactured in the disputed territories and urged supporters not to buy them, in the hope of destroying the livelihoods of the businesses' owners. The boycott list has been distributed to shoppers entering supermarkets, as well as over the Internet. In response, the list has been used by counter-campaigners to urge shoppers to support the businesses by buying the products concerned .
Two senior Palestinian Authority officials were arrested in late October attempting to enter the Gaza Strip with luxury cars stolen in Israel. They were Legislative Council member Moussa Abu Sabha and PA intelligence official General Zacriah Balusha. Israel Radio reports that 33,000 vehicles had been stolen in Israel between January and September 1996, and that police suspect the majority of them had been taken to the self-rule areas.
Sources:Palestinian Media Review, Israel Line, Jewish Chronicle, The Jerusalem Post, Israel Line, Israel Radio, Ha'aretz