Israel may be on the eve of a guerrilla war between Jewish settlers and Palestinian Arabs on the occupied West Bank of Jordan. Such a conflict could spill over into violence within Israel itself on the question of the future of the occupied territories.
This is the view of a number of knowledgeable political analysts and politicians in the wake of last week's car bombings of two Palestinian mayors.
With the culprits still unknown but widely presumed to be extremist Jews, these analysts fear that Israel may even slide toward political anarchy. The example of political chaos in France just prior to Algerian independence in 1962 is frequently raised.
"Any Israeli who believes that what happened in France could not happen here is living in a state of unfounded optimism," says one newspaper analyst.
Moreover, the press and members of the Knesset (parliament) have questioned whether an armed underground Jewish terrorist movement aimed at total Israeli control of the West Bank might not turn next against Jewish targets.
Recently, graffiti have appeared in several Tel Aviv neighborhoods demanding "Death to Sarid, Avneri, and Pail [three members of parliament who advocate Palestinian self-determination]: Free [Meir] Kahane [a Jewish extremist, now under three months administrative detention]."
After the bombings, death threats were phoned to Rafik Halaby, an Israeli Druze reporter who covers the West Bank for Israeli television.
Knesset member Amnon Linn of the ruling Likud Party observed that if Jews had , indeed, carried out the bombings, "One of these days they will go on to bomb the cars of Interior Minister [and chief autonomy negotiator] Yosef Burg and Prime Minister Menachem Begin."
From other quarters the response to the bombing has been less concerned. Gen. Rafael Eitan, Israeli chief of staff, told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that the assassination attempts represented nothing significantly new in Jewish- Arab relations. He said, "The situation in the [ occupied] areas has not reached the gravity of Belfast, of Miami." He was referring to recent violence in Northern Ireland and Florida.
But Dr. Ehud Sprinzak of Hebrew University, a leading expert on radical politics and political violence, told the Monitor that the situation in Israel is developing exactly along the lines of France in the late 1950s and early 1960 s.
"While Israel has a different relationship to Judea and Samaria than France did to Algeria, emotionally, religiously, historically, the operational situation is the same," he said.
"On one side you have settlers who think that Algeria [or Judea and Samaria] are as French as Paris, as Israeli as Tel Aviv. On the othe hand you have a local population [in this case Palestinians] who deny this. And the main population of Israel, like in France of that time, is divided.Some share the views of the settlers. Some think the territory belongs to the Arabs."
The result in France, says Dr. Sprinzak, was the development of extremist underground organizations among settlers and Arabs who were ready to kill for their beliefs -- and violence by the supporters of each faction in France itself against the paralyzed government.
"Once you have such a war in which the main population -- in France or in Israel -- does not have a consensus, this may destroy the conscience of a nation. Brutal things must be done to restore order in the territories, but to those who don't believe we should have the territories, these things are morally wrong. This conflict brought the fourth French republic down. It may bring down the Israeli republic."
Inside the occupied territories, and inside Israel, too, such polarization seems to be developing. The Arab underground is increasing in sophistication on the West Bank. The existence of at least one armed Jewish underground organization was revealed with the arrest and administrative detention of American-born Rabbi Meir Kahane, whose Kach group advocates driving all Arabs out of the West Bank.
Official Israeli sources have told the press that evidence shows that Kach planned to attack Muslim holy sites on the West Bank and blow up the Al-Aksa Mosque in Jerusalem, third holiest site of Islam.Kach leader Yossi Dayan, who lives in Kiryat Arba, a Jewish suburb of Hebron, has denied that his group carried out the bombings but expressed strong support for them.
An arms cache stolen from a military base recently was discovered in the Jewish quarter of old Jerusalem and two soldiers were arrested.
Israeli peace groups -- such as the Peace Now movement -- as well as some Knesset members and informed journalists have expressed concern that strong potential support for a Jewish underground exists among right- wing settlers, and possibly among Jewish soldiers, on the West Bank. The Israeli press has reported that all West Bank settlers now do their universally required annual military reserve duty in special West Bank regional units which police neighboring West Bank Arab towns.
"What will happen one day when they decide that they don't like some step carried out by the military government -- or a future Alignment [Labor Party] government?" asked the Israeli independent daily Haaretz.
In Israeli politics, the moderate middle -- on the Palestinian issue -- seems to be shrinking.
The Begin government's majority has withered to the point where a small group could bring it down. The opposition and critics such as former defense minister Ezer Weizman charge that the government is unable to project a clear sense of direction in the occupied territories.
Charges of "traitor" and "anti-Semite" are hurled across the Knesset over policies in the territories. On university campuses, unprecedentedly violent battles recently have taken place between Israeli Arab and Jewish demonstrators in sympathy with the Palestinians and stick- or chain-wielding right-wing opponents.
Some analysts feel the likelihood of Jew killing Jew is still far off. But leftish Knesset member Uri Avneri, who checks his car daily for bombs, says it might happen "in a month."
"These people have ideological aims, and they have to terrorize their opponents and the government to achieve their ends," he says.
Dr. Sprinzak says the first step toward coping with current polarizations is "unbiased, unideological enforcement of law and order against Jews and Arabs" in the territories. But he forsees escalation because "two people are fighting for the same piece of land."