West Bank Arabs welcome the 'post-Sadat era'

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

As Israelis mourned Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's passin on Yom Kippur, the most solemn Jewish holy day, many Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip were combining the happy Muslim days of Id-Al-Adha (the Feast of the Sacrifice) with a celebration of his death.

A merchant in the fiercely nationalist West Bank town of Nablus distributed the local sticky cheese sweet to passersby, saying, "Now we have two feasts." At some gatherings in private homes, Palestinians drank toasts to "the post-Sadat era."

"Since Sadat made that peace treaty with Israel, we palestinians have had nothing but humiliation," complained one housewife.

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"It is a big loss for the Americans and Israel, not for us," said Karim Khalaf, the mayor of the West Bank town of Ramallah.

The Palestinian rejoicing stemmed from the hope that Mr. Sadat's passing will spell the end of the attempt of Egypt and Israel to institute "full autonomy" in the occupied territories as called for by the Camp David accords. They view autonomy as a continuation of occupation.

"The murder of Sadat is the murder of the Camp David process," exulted Nablus mayor Bassam Shaka, a supporter of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). The same sentiments were echoed by PLO chief Yasser Arafat while visiting Peking this week.

"Sadat paid the price" for "deviating from the Arab national line," editorialized a pro-PLO Palestinian newspaper Al Fajr in East Jerusalem, predicting that Egypt would now come back into the Arab fold.

Despite such predections, the impact of Mr. Sadat's death on the already difficult autonomy negotiations between Israel and Egypt is still unclear. The talks resumed in September after a 16-month breakdown and were due to continue between Oct. 21 and Jan. 15 in a effort to reach an agreement before Israel's scheduled final withdrawal from Sinai in April 1982. Both the Israeli leadership and Mr. Sadat's heir apparent, Vice-President Hosni Mubarak, appear anxious to preserve the momentum of the peace process.

There has been speculation in the Israeli media, based on past interviews with Mr. Mubarak, that he will press harder than did Mr. Sadat for the implementation of Palestinian autonomy. Some Israeli analysts also believe that the United States will push for Israeli concessions on autonomy to strengthen Mr. Mubarak.

Echoes on this theme have already been heard from West Europe where the Times of London editorialized that the best memorial to Mr. Sadat would be concessions to the Palestinians of the West Bank. And according to BBC reports, West German Foreign Minister HansDietrich Genscher called for specific steps to implement Palestinian autonomy "as Sadat had always wanted."

However, Palestinian participation in the autonomy process -- rejected until now, but a necessity at some point if the process is to succeed -- seems even less likely afer the assassination which has boosted the morale of militant Palestinian nationalists.

Ironically, Mr. Sadat's interpretation of autonomy cost him his harshest dispute with the Israelis. He had consistently defined autonomy as a transition to full self-determination for the Palestinians. When he called for Palestinian self-determination in his historic speech to the Israeli parliament in Novermber 1977 he aroused widespread anthisiasm on the West Bank and Gaza. Even now many West Bank and Gaza moderates say -- but only privately -- that they would have been satisfied had Mr. Sadat achieved his version of autonomy.

But most Palestinians feared the Egyptian leader had caved in to Israel's tough position on autonomy. Israel defined autonomy as restricted to local self-administration and Prime Minister Menachem Begin had publicly specified Israel would never relinquish control of the two areas.

"Sadat was okay at the Knesset [parliament] but later he changed," charged West Bank journalist Raymonda Tawil.

Israel hawks on the other hand were charging just prior to Mr. Sadat's death that the Egyptian leader was only waiting for the return of Sinai before launching a major international campaign to get Israel out of the occupied territories.

West Bankers had also been unsettled due to uncertainties about the plan of the new Israeli defense minister adn reputed super-hawk, Ariel Sharon, who had won Cabinet approval only two days before sadat's death for a new plan to separate civilian and military administration of the Palestinians. This plan was intended as a "confidence building" measure to encourage participation in autonomy, along with a series of guidelines for more sensitive Israeli military conduct on the West Bank.

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