West Bank tense as Jews, Arabs fear more bombs
Jerusalem — Leading West Bank Palestinian mayors are operating at a higher level of visibility and importance than before the June 2 car bombing incidents that maimed two of their colleagues -- but only outside the occupied West Bank itself.
This may have a future impact on their influence and status within the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) -- which they all support. But for the time being, in their absence, the West Bank population is tense.
It is fearful and uncertain whether there will be more explosions and, if so, whether they will come from Jewish or Arab Terrorists. Meanwhile, the uneasy calm was again disturbed June 10 when a shot fired from Jerusalem's Old City walls wounded an Israeli border policeman as he was patrolling the area.
Prominent West Bank Mayor Bassam Shaka of Nablus, who lost both legs in his booby-trapped car, has taken on unassailable hero and martyr status. He is now in an Amman, Jordan, hospital bed to which he was transfered when he refused to seek further treatment in an Israeli hospital.
PLO chief Yasser Arafat, who has been at odds with Mayor Shaka because of the latter's key role in a West Bank political directorate that often has acted independently of the PLO, came to Amman to call on the mayor. Mayor Shaka reportedly was uncooperative about yielding to Mr. Arafat's request that the directorate, the National Guidance Committee, be more acquiescent to PLO tactical commands in the future.
Ironically, in the 1950s Mayor Shaka was forced into Syrian exile for several years by Jordan because of his political activities in the pan-Arab, Syrian-sponsored Baath party. Now treated as an honored guest in Amman, he was snubbed last year by the Jordanians when his request for municipal funding was held up during the first visit to Amman since Israel occupied the Jordan West Bank in 1967.
Meanwhile, Mayors Muhammad Milhem of Halhul and Fahd Kawasmeh of Hebron, deported last month after the killing of six Jewish settlers in Hebron by unknown Palestinian assailants, are acquiring more status among Palestinians because of the world publicity they are garnering through appearances in Europe and the United States.
Their talk to a Jewish audience in Washington -- both frequently had met with Israel groups here -- reportedly caused consternation in the Israeli government because of concern that united American Jewish support for Israel might be cracking.
On the West Bank, however, Palestinian leadership is lying low. For the moment, the National Guidance committee, a leftist-oriented political directorate aimed at organizing opposition to the Camp David accords, is inactive. Its key leaders included the three absent mayors. Some of its role is being taken over by municipal councillors from the mayor-less West Bank cities.
The two leading moderate mayors, Elias Freij of Bethlehem and Rashad Shawa of Gaza, tried last week to assert leadership -- and failed. Both men are close to Jordan and to the negotiations-minded wing of the PLO; neither is on the guidance committee.
After having resigned in anger over the car bombings, the two mayors made an embarrassing retraction of their resignations when the more radical, injured mayors and the guidance committee opposed the move, and when no other mayors followed suit.
West Bankers attribute last week's relative quiet to several factors besides lost leadership. One is practical: Last week was the time for final exams for high school students, who usually are in the forefront of demonstrations.
More basic reasons: Israel's new "hard-hand" policy on the West Bank (Palestinians believe that Israeli soldiers, and Jewish settlers as well, have been given carte blanche to put down disturbances), and a loss of confidence that any outside force -- the United States, the United Nations, or the Arab countries -- can change Israel's policy.
"This is no joke any more," says Mrs. Rima Tarazi, a leader in West Bank women's organizations. "The Israelis will do anything against human rights. They will shoot students. They will kill us. I want to stay and to survive here."
West Bankers, meanwhile, are tensed for future explosions. Israeli investigators so far have made no progress in locating the car bombers, according to Israeli press reports, which have given prominence to reports of thefts from military arms depots.