JERUSALEM, DEC. 31 -- The violence that rocked the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip for two weeks and took 22 lives is shaking another community as well: Israel's doves.
While U.S. officials speak of a "new urgency" and momentum in reviving the prospects for peace talks between Israel and its Arab neighbors, polls and political analysts here say the violence has made the Israeli Jewish public more suspicious of Arabs and more supportive of hard-line policies. Meanwhile, the country's peace activists are divided and demoralized.
"The doves are a little hard to find right now," said Israeli author Amos Elon. "Perhaps you can look for them in the museum or in the Zionist archives."
Said a senior official identified with the more dovish stand of Foreign Minister Shimon Peres: "The public mood is shifting to the right. Any prospect for an international peace conference has been damaged. We've definitely lost some time and some momentum."
Part of the reason is the natural tendency of Israeli Jews to rally behind their generals in times of crisis. But part of it, some analysts say, also is the ambivalence and fears that the unrest has fueled among even dovish Israelis about the prospect of negotiations with neighboring Arab countries and the Palestinians of the occupied territories.
"All of us bleeding hearts have a basic problem," said David Freulich, a political aide in the Labor Party, the more dovish of Israel's two main political blocs. "We're advocating compromise and talking to people who right now are on the streets throwing rocks at our soldiers. It's a hard message to get across and even many of us aren't convinced right now."
There were scattered incidents of stone-throwing in several West Bank towns and refugee camps today that an Army spokeswoman characterized as "minor." The big test, she said, will come Friday, the 23rd anniversary of the founding of Fatah, the main wing of the outlawed Palestine Liberation Organization. If the the territories remain relatively quiet, then the wave of unrest that began Dec. 8 can finally be seen as finished, she said.
Ever since the violence began, hard-liners such as Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir have dominated the headlines here with tough statements and even tougher security measures. The unrest has posed no political problem for Shamir, whose rightist Likud bloc, despite shades of differences, is relatively united behind a hawkish policy.
But for the Labor half of Israel's coalition government, the unrest has caused a crisis of political identity. Labor's doves, including party leader Peres, have kept a low political profile, advisers say, because they do not want to be seen as undermining the security forces nor be attacked as soft on the rioters.
That left Labor with one de facto spokesman, Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin, whose hard-line statements, including his advocacy of mass arrests and selective deportations of Palestinian activists and his defense of soldiers who opened fire as a last resort, some critics contend, sound more like Shamir than Shamir himself.
"In many ways Labor sounds like 'Likud B,' " said Edy Kaufman, a Hebrew University political scientist active in the Citizens Rights Movement, a small party to Labor's left. Like many here, he believes the violence ultimately will hurt both major parties.
"This crisis is very good for the extreme right and not bad for the liberal left," he said. "But Likud and Labor will both lose ground because they lack clear-cut policies."
Others disagree. Pollster Hanoch Smith said the natural public response in a crisis is to "rally behind the flag and support the hard-line position." Rabin's high-profile role is crucial for Labor, Smith says, because through him the party was identified with the hard line and thus protected from a right-wing backlash.
The unrest is bound to be a major issue in the national elections scheduled for November, which more than ever are shaping up as a test of Israel's future direction in its relations with the Arabs. Labor favors convening an international conference on Middle East peace as an opening to allow direct negotiations among Israel, Jordan and Palestinian representatives from the territories. Shamir and the Likud strongly oppose the plan, and analysts say it will be even harder to sell after the violence of December.
Last week's one-day general strike by Israeli Arabs made matters worse for Labor, some say, by compounding Jewish suspicions that even "friendly Arabs" are out to destroy the state. "Our big fear is that something has started that is going to get worse and worse and it's not just happening in the Gaza Strip but in Jaffa, just a few blocks from Dizengoff Street," Freulich said. Heavily Arab Jaffa is a twin city of Tel Aviv, of which Dizengoff Street is the central boulevard.
With the violence lessening, the peace activists are beginning to emerge again. Peace Now, the dovish movement whose popularity peaked after the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, held well-attended rallies in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv last week.
Peres, on Israeli television last night, argued that the unrest only emphasized the need to pursue a negotiated settlement. He repeated remarks he made last Sunday on CBS' Face the Nation that "today it's clear more than ever before that only a political, peaceful, diplomatic settlement can provide the necessary answers."
Shamir does not argue with such sentiments, but contends that for now, no Arab negotiating partners are making themselves available.