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Palestinians Try Israeli Line: 'Peace With Security'

Calls for personal safety suggest a new Arab priority. Israel refutes comparison.

By Ilene R. PrusherSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / March 18, 1998



HEBRON, WEST BANK

Security is Mohammed Iklawy's job. He spends most of his days chasing after packs of boys and teenagers who pelt Israeli soldiers with rocks and Molotov cocktails. Israeli troops respond with their usual spray of rubber-coated bullets and tear gas.

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But now Mr. Iklawy and his fellow police officers are at the center of a Palestinian debate over whose security the Palestinian police are there to ensure.

"This kind of situation is bad for us and for the Israelis," he says, adding that quelling the violent protests that have erupted since three Palestinians were shot at an Israeli checkpoint last week - their van had veered toward the soldiers - is the right thing to do.

"We stop them because we're afraid they'll die, or they'll lose a hand or an eye or something," says Iklawy, a stocky young man dressed in the black pants, shirt, and cap ensemble of the Preventive Security Service.

Recent events have brought criticism of the notion of "preventive security." Critics say all the 1993 Oslo accords have sought to do is prevent violence committed by Palestinians, and the only security that the agreements seek to ensure is that of Israelis.

At the funerals of the three men, manual laborers who had been returning home from work in Israel, a cleric from the Islamic fundamentalist movement Hamas seized on popular resentment.

"They talk of their security. Where is the security for our people?" Sheikh Naif Rajoub bellowed in a eulogy carried over loudspeakers from the mosque in Dura, the workers' home village.

Palestinian President Yasser Arafat soon began picking up a similar refrain. Over the weekend, after a small bomb in East Jerusalem wounded four Arabs and Israeli soldiers fired on Palestinian journalists at a riot, Mr. Arafat called for intervention.

"I am sorry to say they're escalating their aggression against our people and we are asking for international protection very soon," Arafat said.

In talking about security, Arafat and other Palestinians are using the language of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Building on the "peace with security" catchphrase that got him elected nearly two years ago, Mr. Netanyahu says the land-for-peace trade cannot continue as long as the Palestinian Authority fails to thwart terrorism.

The shift from fighting for political independence to demanding personal security may be a kind of turning point in how the Palestinians view their priorities in the peace process. Palestinians complain the accords always put the onus on them to conform with Israeli security demands and to extradite their terrorists to Israel.

But Palestinians say Israel does not treat its own wrongdoers seriously. The soldiers responsible for the checkpoint shootings were held overnight and released.

Netanyahu apologized for the "tragic mistake," but army officials said that the soldiers had properly followed open-fire orders - fueling Palestinian complaints that the deaths were the result of a harsh policy rather than an itchy trigger finger.

Last week's shooting brought home to Palestinians the same sense of insecurity felt by Israelis every time a suicide bomber has struck. "It could have been any one of us," said a stunned mourner at one of the funerals.

Israeli officials reject any connection between the suicide bombings carried out by Hamas and mistakes by soldiers. But to Palestinians, last week's shootings are even more grave because they were carried out by representatives of the government.

"Palestinians feel that Israelis think the lives of Palestinians are very cheap, especially to Israeli soldiers, and this incident really enforced that feeling," says Ghassan Khatib, a political science professor at Bir Zeit University in the West Bank.

Iklawy, the Palestinian policeman, realizes it is that kind of fear mixed with fury he is charged with controlling. Iklawy tries to get young protesters to cool off. But he is sympathetic. It was less than 10 years ago when he was throwing stones and bottles during the intifadah, or uprising.

Messages are mixed. Arafat says protests will continue until the Israeli soldiers are brought to justice. Then Jibril Rajoub, head of Preventive Security, sends his security men out. They usually show up conspicuously late, after the crowds have let off some steam.

Some Palestinians say Arafat was tricked into signing an agreement set up to give him control of people, but not land. That can make playing referee between Palestinian protesters and the Israeli army tough. The police officers dread being thought of as hired hands of the Israelis.

"They understand this is our job," says Iklawy. "But sometimes we hear this accusation that we're here to help the Israeli soldiers, and it's not a good feeling."