Sadat successor faces hardening Israeli line,
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"Once this is clearly understood, the emotional dimension that evokes problems of conscience in some minds will be removed. If it is perceived in this light, you have, on the one hand, a Palestinian- Jordanian Arab state and Israel on the other, then the problem is reduced to a territorial conflict between these two states."Skip to next paragraph
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Mr. Sharon, as defense minister, is responsible for military government on the West Bank. Within a few days of assuming office in August, he halted certain Israeli military practices that have been daily irritants to the Arabs living under Israelis occupation.
The military correspondent of the Jerusalem Post commented at the time: "On reflection, [Mr. Sharon's] desire to make life more tolerable for the inhabitants of the territories could be seen more as a means of perpetuating Israeli rule over these people than as a means of working toward a political solution granting independence."
Of greater political importance than the removal of these irritants are the Israeli authorities' simultaneous tough moves to isolate the Palestinian political leadership in urban areas on the West Bank and in Gaza from their most important contacts elsewhere in the Arab world.
Hitherto these contacts have been with: (1) the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which they have insisted is the only legitimate voice of the Palestinians (now a punishable offense); and (2) with the government of King Hussein of Jordan, which has been the main source of funding for economic programs in West Bank towns. The mayors of these towns are no longer allowed to travel abroad.
The mayors and others who are the targets of these new Israeli restrictions have consistently refused cooperation in any political sense with the Israeli authorities. The latter say the mayors are subject to PLO blackmail, even assassination threats.
At the moment, the israeli government is trying to develop an alternative to urban Palestinians as a possible interlocutor on the question of the future of the West Bank. They are directing their attention (and Israeli funds) to the rural population, which they seem to think can be "bought" away from any concept of Palestinian statehood on the West Bank.
They have had the greatest success to date in the Hebron area. There it is claimed some 70 villages have come together in an association of village leagues under the leadership of a sexagenarian Palestinian Mustafa Dudin. He says his cooperation with the Israelis has provided him with development funds to build 40 miles of road and 24 new schools.
How viable and credible this relationship between the Israelis authorities and the village leagues will prove remains to be seen.
It all seems to be pointing away from the full Palestinian autonomy to which Mr. Sadat was pledged to getting, and Mr. Begin to giving, in the Camp David accords. At the resumed round of autonomy talks last month in Cairo, the Egyptian side welcomed as a "confidence building" step the expected establishment of Israeli civilian government on the West Bank. The Egyptians know they have to be as reassuring as possible to the Israelis if they want the israelis to honor their commitment to complete their withdrawal from Sinai in April -- something which Mr. Sadat gave priority to over the Palestinian issue.
The question now is whether the new Egyptian leadership, seeing where the Israelis seem to be heading since that Cairo meeting, will feel able to maintain that priority and carry on as cooperatively with the Israelis as did Mr. Sadat.