Jews, Arabs wait for West Bank policy
Hebron, Israeli-occupied West Bank — Perched on a hilltop above the Arab city of Hebron, this Jewish settlement looks more like a Jerusalem neighborhood than an outpost. Its 5,000 residents are served by two shopping centers, Jewish theological institutes, a community center, and playgrounds.
Rabbi Eliezer Waldman, spiritual leader of Kiryat Arba and one of its founding members, is optimistic that the settlement's growth will continue under the new Israeli government.
''The government is not yet positively against our ideals,'' said Rabbi Waldman. ''Territorial compromise (trading some or all of the West Bank with Jordan in exchange for a peace treaty), this is not a principle laid down in the government's guidelines.''
In the center of Hebron just minutes from Kiryat Arba, an Arab merchant said he is hoping that the national-unity government will at least slow down the building of Jewish settlements in areas densely populated by Arabs.
''(Prime Minister Shimon) Peres said before the elections, 'We don't need to build settlements inside Arab towns,' '' Mohi Said Ahmed said. ''Now, we will wait. We don't know what this government will do. No one has come to us yet and said, you have to go out.''
A few hundred feet behind the vegetable market where Mr. Ahmed has his stall, an outpost of Jewish settlers live in what was once the Jewish Quarter of Hebron. The Jews of Hebron were massacred by Arabs in 1929, and this town remained almost entirely Arab until a few years ago, when a band of settlers moved back, restored old homes and a synagogue and moved in temporary buildings. They now live guarded by Israeli soldiers.
Both Jews and Arabs on the West Bank have a wait-and-see attitude about the newly formed national unity government. The guidelines agreed to by the Labor and Likud parties after weeks of haggling were vague enough that much room was left for interpretation.
But some aspects of the government's West Bank policy seem clear.
Settlements: There is no call for a freeze on settlements in the agreement signed by the Labor Party and the Likud. The new government's guidelines call for five or six settlements to be built in the West Bank in the next year. The Likud government had 22 more settlements in the works before the election. The national unity guidelines say that those settlements will be established during the course of the government according to a timetable to be determined by a majority of the Cabinet.
Establishment of any new settlements ''will require approval by a majority of the Cabinet ministers,'' according to the guidelines.
Administration: Nothing is mentioned in the guidelines about administration of the territories. But there has been some expectation on the West Bank that the Labor Party leaders might try to ease occupation conditions. One possibility is that the government may appoint Arab mayors to several Arab towns that now are administered by Israelis.
Since 1980, Arabs elected mayors of key West Bank towns in 1976 have been deposed by the Israelis for political reasons. The Israelis may be hard put, however, to find Arabs willing to assume the positions. Official Israeli sources have stressed that they will not allow new elections nor reappoint those mayors who were deposed.
Territorial exchange: The guidelines state that during the government's four-year tenures ''there will be no change in the sovereignty over Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza District, except with the consent of (Labor) and the Likud.'' Prime Minister Peres, in his opening address to the Knesset and in subsequent speeches, has called on Jordan's King Hussein to negotiate with Israel. But most observers believe there is little chance that Jordan will enter negotiations without some guarantee that the Israelis will relinquish most, if not all, of the occupied territories.
It was the vagueness of the government's stance on settlements that forced the ultranationalist Tehiya (Renaissance) Party to join the opposition, Waldman said. Waldman, a soft-spoken, gray-bearded man, is a Knesset member for Tehiya, the party formed after Israel agreed to relinquish the Sinai in return for peace with Egypt.
Tehiya, Waldman said, is adamantly opposed to returning any part of the West Bank to Jordan, and favors rapid growth of settlements in the territories.
''If it (the government) serves our ideals, we will support the government. If it is against our ideals, we will be against the government and rouse the people,'' Waldman said.
Even without the government's help, Waldman said, the settlers will continue to build on land they believe is biblically-mandated to the Jews.
''It is the continuance of the Zionist process which means building, building , building and development,'' he said.
One constraint on building, however, may be economic. At its first Cabinet meeting, the new government announced that it will cut $1 billion from the current budget, including cuts in the military budget.
Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin said in an interview with Israel Radio that he preferred his budget cuts to be made in funding for West Bank settlments rather than in weapons or manpower.