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Rabin’s Widow: Would Rather Shake Arafat’s Hand Than Netanyahu’s

November 15, 1995

JERUSALEM (AP) _ Leah Rabin, widow of Israel’s late prime minister, said today she’d rather shake the hand of PLO chief Yasser Arafat than that of Israeli opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu.

``The handshake (of Yitzhak Rabin) two years ago with Yasser Arafat symbolized hope and the beginning of a new road ... for peace,″ she told Ted Koppel on ABC-TV’s ``Nightline.″

``The handshake with Mr. Netanyahu did not.″

After Rabin’s funeral last week, Mrs. Rabin said it was hard to greet and to be civil to some of the hardline legislators whom she blamed for inciting Jewish radicals against her husband. She met briefly with Arafat last Thursday when he made a condolence call to her home outside Tel Aviv _ the PLO chief’s first publicly acknowledged trip to Israel.

``That Yasser Arafat sat in my living room was like something from the movies...,″ she said, calling it a ``special experience″ for her as well as her grandchildren.

``If you think about how two years ago it appeared so impossible, and now in walks a warm person who kisses the children and tells us we are now his family.″

Mrs. Rabin’s comments set the tone for the program’s ``Town Meeting,″ which was broadcast live from the Jerusalem Theater.

Despite calls for unity and civility from both government supporters and opponents, the program showed Rabin’s Nov. 4 assassination has not bridged deep divisions in Israel over trading war-won land for peace with the Arabs.

Rabin’s successor, Shimon Peres, defended his government’s right to make difficult decisions despite its narrow parliamentary support and said Israel will use all means against extremist groups whose virulent incitement is blamed for the assassination.

Netanyahu, head of the opposition Likud Party, said the government’s crackdown on extreme right-wing groups smacked of ``a sheer witch hunt ... McCarthyism at its purest.″

``I wonder if it is wise for the government to make revolutionary decisions″ with a majority of only 63 out of 120 Knesset members, said Likud lawmaker Eliahu Ben-Elissar.

Throughout the program, which went a half-hour beyond its scheduled 90 minutes, Koppel had difficulty controlling his sparring guests.

``The angry bitterness that exists just underneath the surface is quite extraordinary,″ Koppel commented.

Afterward, Mrs. Rabin criticized the show, telling Israel radio that ``it exists precisely in order to fan the flames and it does not sound good.″

``This is not the time yet for such debates and definitely not on our TV screens,″ she said.

``This was not a debate in a good atmosphere and this is not the time yet for such debates and definitely not on our TV screens. ... I am very unhappy about this whole story.″

Most of the 800-odd audience appeared to be religious Jews, and the loudest applause was won by right-wing speakers who called on the government to slow down the PLO peace process in order to first heal the divisions among Israelis.

``Peace with our enemies is a mockery when there is no peace with our brothers,″ said Esther Waxman, whose son Nachshon was killed last October in an attempted rescue after he was abducted by Palestinian militants.

``I am stunned by the hypocrisy,″ said Michael Bar-Zohar, an author and former lawmaker. He chided right-wing leaders for encouraging incitement against Rabin and ``when the inevitable happens ... you say this is a McCarthyist state.″

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