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New Self-Rule Plays Well in West Bank

Palestinians look toward Israeli withdrawal and self-rule in the West Bank with both hope and expectation

By John BattersbyStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / July 10, 1995



NABLUS, ISRAELI-OCCUPIED WEST BANK

OHAMMED YUSUF says he is able to dream again.

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"The occupation killed my dreams," says Mr. Yusuf, a restaurant worker here who looks forward to the end of 28 years of Israeli occupation with both expectation and hope.

During the nearly three decades of Israeli administration, Yusuf abandoned his# dream of owning his own restaurant and survived years of unemployment and humiliation in a town that acquired a reputation as one of the most militant centers of Palestinian resistance.

Israel took the West Bank from Jordan in the 1967 Arab-Israeli conflict. It has since maintained control over the territory mainly because of security reasons.

If plans remain on schedule, an agreement on a phased withdrawal of Israeli troops from the West Bank will be signed by Israeli and Palestinian leaders in Washington on July 25. And the Israeli Army will withdraw from Nablus and three other West Bank towns by the end of August.

Yusuf sees the dawning of a new era. "I think there will be a total change in the life of Palestinians when the Israeli soldiers withdraw from our city.

"For the first time in nearly three decades, we will have our own people in charge, and the daily harassment by Israeli soldiers will end," says Yusuf, who works as a waiter at the al-Nojoum Cafeteria here.

He foresees economic problems persisting for some time. And he says there's sure to be confusion over the partial #pullback by Israeli troops, who will remain in some areas to protect about 130,000 Israeli settlers.

The years of conflict in Nablus and the people's rejection of the Israeli Civil Administration led to the collapse of most municipal services, and the virtual stagnation of the once-thriving commercial and industrial sector of the West Bank's largest town.

The town's council collapsed around 1987. For the next seven years the town had no mayor and no civic leaders supported by the 150,000 people in a predominantly Muslim town.

But a year ago, as a result of the 21-month-old Israeli-Palestinian peace accord, Nablus acquired a new mayor, Ghassan Shakah, who has succeeded in transforming the appearance of the town in preparation for the withdrawal of Israeli troops, which is expected to take place by the end of August.

Mr. Shakah, a respected lawyer, is part of the Palestinian Authority - a council appointed by PA leader Yasser Arafat to implement the September 1993 self-rule agreement in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank town of Jericho.

"We are doing our best to rebuild the city and get the services working smoothly again so that it will be easier for the PA when they take over in the West Bank," Shakah says. "What we need, first of all, is our liberty. Then we will be able to decide ourselves what is good for us.

"At the moment the Israelis decide everything from who is granted building permits to what kind of food prisoners receive," he says. "But we are entering a new stage now, and I think we will notice a change immediately. We will organize ourselves to build and develop our city and our homeland on the road to a Palestinian state."