Responding to a recent wave of killings of Israelis blamed on Palestinian militants, the Israeli Cabinet decided today to apply a series of harsh security measures in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, but it did not give in to demands that it implement the death penalty for convicted terrorists.
The Cabinet approved deportation of "persons who constitute a security risk," indefinite "administrative detention" without charges for Arabs suspected of security offenses, an increase in prison capacity in the West Bank and the shutting down of Arab newspapers that violate censorship by publishing material considered by the authorities to be inflammatory.
Authority for all of the measures exists under current Israeli law, but they have been unused, for the most part, during the past three years because of legal obstacles and time-consuming appeals.
In the case of deportations, the attorney general was ordered to speed up technical proceedings so that persons found to be security risks can be sent across the border quickly into Lebanon or Jordan, Cabinet Secretary Yossi Beilin told reporters after ministers met.
Jordan's information minister, Mohammed Khatib, charged in a telephone interview with The Associated Press that Israel's decision to reinstitute deportations violated international law and human rights. "We consider this is a part of Israel's long, long policy to leave the land empty of (Arab) citizens," he said.
While a Cabinet communique made no reference to it, the decision was clearly in reaction to a recent series of attacks against Israelis by West Bank Arabs that has shaken Israeli society severely.
During the past year, Palestinian extremists have been accused in the deaths of at least 11 Israelis in what Israel sees as a new brand of terrorism, often kidnaping their victims in remote areas of Israel close to the West Bank boundary before killing them, and sometimes gunning them down randomly -- apparently without organized direction -- in crowded streets of West Bank towns and then blending into Arab crowds.
In the most recent attacks, two Israeli school teachers from the northern Israeli town of Afula were kidnaped and slain on July 21, and two Palestinian youths have been arrested.
An Israeli was shot to death last week in Nablus, the largest city in the West Bank.
Security sources and some political leaders have said that most of the slayings appeared to be spontaneous acts committed by Palestinians who are not linked to any known liberation movement or terrorist group. Rather, the sources say, they appear to be acting independently out of nationalistic motives or because of increasing hostilities between Arabs and extremist Jewish settlers in the West Bank, particularly those who support Rabbi Meir Kahane of the extremist Kach Movement.
Widespread public fear over the new phenomenon prompted demands by some rightist Cabinet ministers for use of capital punishment against convicted terrorists. Israel has had the death penalty since 1948 but has used it only once -- when it hanged Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann in 1962.
The Cabinet voted today to let the existing capital punishment law stand, and referred the question of its use to a ministerial committee headed by Justice Minister Moshe Nissim. The vote was not announced but Cabinet sources said 17 ministers voted to let the death penalty statute stand as it is, and that only Yigael Hurwitz, a minister without portfolio, pressed for stiffer language on the use of capital punishment.
Several ministers of the Likud faction of the coalition government, including Ariel Sharon and Moshe Arens, had argued publicly that stringent new punishments against security detainees were needed because potential terrorists now see Israel's power of deterrence as having been weakened.
Advocates of capital punishment and the use of other harsh security measures blamed this new perception on Israel's pullback from Lebanon in the face of mounting casualties and its release of 1,150 Arab prisoners in May, some of them convicted terrorists, in exchange for three Israeli war prisoners.
Arens, who had advocated the use of the death penalty but who went along with today's Cabinet resolution, according to Cabinet sources, had argued that a dramatic new deterrent to terrorism was needed to stem the recent wave of killings.
"If it's clear to them that there is a good possibility they will not get out of this alive, that they'll be facing a death sentence, I think that there is good reason to believe that we will deter some of them, and every terrorist like that deterred is almost a life saved," Arens said before today's meeting.
Sharon had taken no public stand on capital punishment, but he had urged the government to adopt a series of harsh security measures. His recommendations included Air Force strikes against newly relocated Palestine Liberation Organization headquarters in Jordan, extensive use of deportations and administrative detentions, and the dynamiting of the first row of houses adjacent to roads on which Israeli cars are stoned and the demolition of other rows of Arab houses for each further stoning incident.
Faced with almost certain defeat if the death penalty issue reached the parliament, the hard-line ministers, including Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir, appeared today to have yielded to Prime Minister Shimon Peres and the majority among the Labor Party and its coalition allies who oppose capital punishment and settled for what appears likely to be a crackdown on militant Palestinians in the occupied territories.
The use of deportation, which was suspended three years ago, was viewed by many Cabinet ministers as potentially the most effective deterrent.
Some noted that psychologically, deportation could be the most painful punishment to a militant nationalist who believes that the only thing the military government could not take away is his attachment to his homeland.
However, Abba Eban, chairman of the parliament's Defense and Foreign Relations Committee, noted that it is impossible to estimate how effective the implementation of the strict security measures will be in combating the new brand of self-inspired terrorism.
"One of the difficulties is the individual nature of these attacks," Eban said in an interview on state radio. "Paradoxically, it is easier to deal with outrages that are performed by an organization, because an organization is a target. It is punishable.
"All you can do with an individual is to catch him and bring him to trial. So, the more individual these actions are the greater the problems they pose for the security authorities."