Israeli crackdown 'helps' West Bank radicals

Organized Palestinian political activity in the occupied West Bank has been severely curtailed in recent months by the Israeli military government -- which claimed such actions were hostile to Israel.

But knowledgeable West Bankers suggest that the resulting political vacuum in fact may encourage activity by more radical groups who totally oppose a peace settlement.

Or, they say, it could even force a return to the kind of underground political leadership stamped out by Israel early in the 1970s.

A series of recent events on the West Bank highlight these conclusions:

* The National Guidance Committee, a public West Bankwide political directorate of mayors, professionals, and notables that emerged in 1978 to organize opposition to the Camp David autonomy plan, has been virtually silenced. Two of its leading mayor-members were expelled three months ago after the murder of six Jewish settlers in Hebron, and two mre were badly maimed in as-yet-unsolved car bombings in June.

Israeli military authorities have banned the committee's remaining members from meeting. They also have forbidden Palestinian mayors to leave their towns without military permission.

* Mayor Bassam Shaka of Nablus, who lost both legs in the car bomb incident, was effectively isolated during his one-month convalescence of home before leaving Aug. 5 for three months of treatment in France and England.

Mayor Shaka is a West Bank nationalist and key figure on the guidance committee; his stature was enhanced by his courageous recovery. He was considered a political bete noir by the Israelis, who reffused other mayors permission to visit him in Nablus.

* Support for the continuing hunger strike by 73 Palestinian long-term prisoners over conditions in the brand-new high security Nafha prison in the Negev desert has been mainly organized by radical leftist groups.

These groups are at odds with much of the guidance committee and with more moderate West Bank leaders over tactics and timing. They are accused by some of the latter, of subordinating a humanitarian issue -- over which two hunger strikers already died after being force-fed -- to political goals.

The Israeli military authorities say that the guidance committee took its orders from radical "rejectionist" factions of the Palestine Liberation Organization in Beirut and opposed any negotiated peace settlement. They insist that political activities will be allowed in the territories only if these are "in the spirit of Camp David and the peace process."

However, Israel's tough crackdown on anti-Camp David political activity -- and the uneasy calm that has followed -- has not produced any new leadership that supports Camp David. Indeed, longtime West Bank observers say the hostility toward Israel among moderate elements has increased.

Mayor Shaka, in an interview with the Monitor before departing, admitted that he -- and the guidance committee -- had opposed Camp David, but added, "I don't believe rejection is the way. Have not rejected any good offer. But only a bad one -- Camp David."

West Bank observers say that despite the Israelis' distrust of Mr. Shaka, he was a stabilizing force in West Bank politics that will be missed.

Similarly, they say, leading elemens remaining in the guidance committee -- including nationalists and Communist Party supporters -- are reluctant for the time being to endorse any protest moves which are bound to fail under the new Israeli tough line. On the other hand, they emphasize, the political forces organizing support for the Nafha prison strike display no such caution. These forces, they say, are sympathetic to PLO hard-liners outside.

One informed West Bank source comments only half in jest, "The Israelis may come to regret the loss of elected and established political figures like those on the guidance committee who operated openly and were at least willing to discuss problems with military government."

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