West Bank Security Put to Test

Jewish settlers, Palestinian militants seek to undermine Israeli-PLO accord

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

A PALESTINIAN blew himself up with a car bomb near a Jewish settlement north of here Nov. 2, in a continuing wave of violence between settlers and Palestinian radicals.

As Palestinian and Israeli peace negotiators clashed over security arrangements under the future Palestinian autonomy regime, the issue has posed itself in stark and bloody terms on the ground in the occupied territories.

Palestinians suspended the talks taking place in Egypt's Red Sea resort town of Taba over the extent of Israel's withdraw from the Gaza Strip.

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Hamas, the militant Islamic Palestinian group opposed to peace with Israel, claimed responsibility for planning the bombing.

The driver was killed when the car exploded in the Palestinian village of Sinjin, near the Jewish settlement of Shiloh, but no one else was hurt.

MEANWHILE, just outside the fiercely religious Jewish settlement of Beit El, young men taking shelter from rain showers under tents continued to study the Torah on the spot where fellow settler Haim Mizrahi was kidnapped and killed by two Hamas militants Oct. 29.

They complained that the Army does not offer them enough protection.

The memorial camp, explained one Beit El resident, ``is a message to the government that, in Jewish areas close to Arab villages, we demand security. And if it can't provide it, we will have to take the law into our own hands.''

Less than a mile down the road, at the Jalazoon Palestinian refugee camp, school principal Bassam Said was showing the local Israeli military commander what happens when settlers take the law into their own hands.

The fourth grade classroom in Jalazoon boys' school was a soot blackened hole, piled with burned benches and desks. Settlers had broken in before dawn Nov. 1 and set fire to the room.

Gen. Nehamya Tamari, the head of the Israeli Army's Central Command, said he was ashamed of what he saw.

Mr. Said complained that the Army does not offer Palestinians enough protection. In three days of settler rampages near Beit El since Mizrachi's murder, three Palestinian houses were attacked, 11 Palestinian cars were torched, and around 175 cars had their windshields smashed, Palestinian sources say.

Mizrachi's killers, drawn from Hamas ranks, and the rioters who come from nearby Jewish settlements are both using violence to undermine security and thus destroy the peace process that they all oppose.

Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin ran into a storm of criticism from the opposition when he suggested as much earlier this week, amid accusations that he was comparing settlers with terrorists.

Although he was quick to draw the distinction, Mr. Rabin's comments have only deepened the settlers' feeling that the government is leaving them to their fate as it negotiates the details of Palestinian autonomy.

``There is an atmosphere that nobody cares about us,'' worries Naomi Bakush, a resident of Beit El, as she sits in the tent camp overseeing a class of schoolgirls doing their lessons. ``They call us settlers as if settlers were not part of the people.... They've abandoned us.''

If the settlers are unhappy with the level of protection they are given now by the Army, they are even more concerned by the prospect of depending on a future Palestinian police force next year whenever they leave their homes.

Under the terms of the framework peace accord negotiated in Norway, Israel will be responsible for security inside the settlements, and for the overall security of Israelis, during the five-year interim period of autonomy, while the Palestinians will establish a strong police force that will operate in Palestinian areas.

The details of who will patrol where, and the extent of the Israeli and Palestinian forces' authority, have still to be agreed in the Taba negotiations.

But the recent spate of violence has not encouraged Jewish settlers to put much faith in Yasser Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) forces, even though they have forsworn violence against Israelis.

``Why is the PLO not internally policing Hamas, taking their weapons away?'' demanded Moshe Meir, a computer importer from Beit El. ``I think the PLO is capable of controlling its population, but the government has to make it clear that the whole future of autonomy is dependent on a complete stoppage of terrorist activity.''

At the same time, Palestinians also are worried by the future, with one member of the negotiating team, Ghassan Khatib, warning at a press conference that the recent outbreak of settler violence ``is only an early warning of clashes in the future.

``In Taba we are talking about arrangements for the security of the settlements,'' he added. ``These incidents show the need for security arrangements for Palestinians, too.''

And some Palestinians doubt whether their planned police force will be up to the job.

``My police will have simple guns and limited authority,'' says Mohammed Adarbeh, manager of the Jalazoon camp. ``They'll be able just to protect themselves, not the people.''

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