Tel Aviv — Today, the most sustained Palestinian uprising in the Israeli-occupied territories enters its third month. But the man charged with stopping it sees no imminent end to the violence. ``We will have to cope with it for a longer period,'' Israeli Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin said.
The Army, Mr. Rabin said in an interview, is dealing with a wholly new situation in which violence by the indigenous population has replaced war and the use of terror as a means of ending Israel's 20-year control over the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The rioting that accompanied the funeral yesterday of a 15-year-old Palestinian seemed to be a grim confirmation of Rabin's forecast of more violence.
The teen-ager was allegedly beaten to death by Israeli security forces on Sunday. His death brought to 48 the number of Palestinian lives lost during the upheaval, which, in the past week, has accelerated after a brief lull.
Rabin attributed the prolonged unrest to limits imposed on the use of force by Israel combined with the propensity of ``certain segments'' of the Palestinian population to sustain the violence.
Israel's current troubles began Dec. 9, a day after four Gaza laborers died in the collision of an Israeli Army truck and two cars.
Within days the violent demonstrations in Gaza swept into the West Bank, their scope and intensity catching most Israelis and even the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) by complete surprise.
The second month of clashes ended on a grim note last weekend as troops killed three Palestinians and injured 10 others in the Arab village of Beit Ummar, in the West Bank. Disturbances have also grown far more frequent in Arab East Jerusalem.
While the former chief of staff saw no immediate end to the violence, he voiced confidence that ``we shall overcome this problem'' in the long term.
Rabin insisted that ``there is no policy of beatings'' by the Israeli government. But the defense minister said beatings were permissible for Israeli soldiers during demonstrations or while in ``hot pursuit'' of demonstrators.
``The use of force is allowed against the use of force,'' Rabin said.
When asked about dozens of press reports of Palestinians accosted in their homes and beaten by Israeli soldiers, Rabin acknowledged that there have been ``exceptions.'' He insisted that those incidents were rare, given the ``hundreds of violent activities'' involving ``thousands and thousands of soldiers'' over the past two months.
Beatings are not unique to Israeli security forces, added the former prime minister, defending measures that have led to calls in both Israel and the United States for his resignation.
``When there is opposition by force, they do not kiss the demonstrators; they use their clubs,'' Rabin said of other police forces around the world.
Two weeks ago, the defense minister advocated replacing ``live ammunition'' with ``punches and blows'' as a means of reducing dependence on lethal force in subduing demonstrators.
At the time, Rabin labeled the policy ``might, power, and beatings.''
Since then 1,500 beatings have been reported, according to the Palestine Press Service.
``I brought about a change in policy to use force on a large scale, including hitting to replace the use of firearms. I'm not denying this is what I've said,'' Rabin commented. ``But to call it a policy of beating is not a correct statement.''
Despite the harsh crackdown that has lately made him the unexpected darling of Israeli conservatives, Rabin said that ending strife in the territories will depend on diplomacy, not raw force.
Assistant US Secretary of State Richard Murphy was expected in Israel today on the third leg of a journey designed to promote a new Reagan administration plan to provide greater autonomy for the West Bank and Gaza.
In the context of autonomy arrangements agreed to by Israel and Jordan, Rabin said he would welcome elections in the territories.
But Rabin said that, like nearly all Israelis, he would oppose creation of a Palestinian state that - in the opinion of many experts - the likely pro-PLO winners of such an election would almost certainly demand.
Such a state, said Rabin, would be a ``time bomb that will explode everything we have achieved.''
Despite a willingness to cede portions of the territories heavily populated by Arabs as part of a negotiated solution, Rabin said the status of Jerusalem - regarded by Israel as a united city - is nonnegotiable.
``No one of us dares to think that there is any possibility ... to bring about the redivision of Jerusalem,'' Rabin said.
In what appeared to constitute a slight shift in policy, Rabin said Israel will now give a lower priority to forcing Arab shopkeepers to remain open during commercial strikes.
``If they want [to stay open], fine. If they don't, let them strike,'' said Rabin.