A wave of inter-Arab killings is sweeping the Israeli-occupied territories, as activists of the Palestinian uprising carry out a campaign to eliminate persons suspected of cooperating with the Israeli authorities. Attacks on ``collaborators'' have been going on since the early months of the uprising. But they have intensified in the past two weeks, with 11 Palestinians killed in as many days, and at least five assaulted.
The Israeli-appointed mayor of the West Bank town of El Bireh announced his resignation over the weekend after arsonists tried to set fire to his house. And in the West Bank town of Jericho, attackers burned a restaurant belonging to a suspected pro-Israeli ``collaborator.''
The increased internecine violence comes as moves to hold elections in the territories have run up against their first obstacles. Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir's proposal for balloting is only starting to be elaborated in Israel. Disagreement has emerged on whether the elections should be to choose municipal officials or to form a delegation to talk with Israel, and on whether the Army should withdraw from areas of the territories during the voting.
Palestinians last week repeated their opposition to Mr. Shamir's election scheme in a statement signed by 80 leading nationalist figures in the occupied territories. They said Shamir's proposal was an attempt to buy time, end the uprising, ignore Palestinian national aspirations, and divide Palestinians inside the territories from their brothers abroad.
But Foreign Minister Moshe Arens said on Saturday that the 80 ``knew that if their names weren't put at the bottom of that piece of paper'' they might suffer reprisals from other Palestinians.
Israel had previously refused to permit elections in the territories on grounds that a political campaign would breed violence between rival Palestinian factions. The killings of ``collaborators'' in the past two weeks have been cited by officials as further evidence of the potential for political terrorism in the occupied territories.
The violence has been aimed at both alleged informers for the Israeli security services, and at persons suspected of disreputable and criminal behavior, such as drug-dealing and prostitution. Palestinians describe the phenomenon as a ``cleansing'' of Palestinian life, an attempt by uprising activists to purge their community of elements which harm the national cause by weakening the fabric of Palestinian society.
The increase in killings has been attributed by Israeli security sources to the strengthening of enforcement arms of the uprising, known variously as the ``strike forces,'' and ``Popular Army.''
Security and police sources say that in some incidents, criminally motivated attacks have been defended later as assaults on ``collaborators.'' Personal and criminal feuds are given nationalist overtones, and some killings have mixed motives, where the victims may be both criminals and informers for the security services.
The campaign against ``collaborators'' has had an effect. In various communities, Palestinians working with the security services have ``repented,'' surrendering their Israeli-issued guns and publicly renouncing their previous activities, according to Palestinian reports.
However, the exposure of informers and attacks on them do not seem to have seriously hampered the work of Israel's Shin Bet intelligence service. At regular intervals, the Army announces the arrest of new groups of Palestinians suspected of violent attacks or of political activism during the uprising. Much of the information leading to the arrests comes from informants.
What the authorities are unable to do is provide blanket protection for Palestinians working for them. After the first lynching of a ``collaborator'' last year, the Army beefed up its protection of those cooperating with the authorities, designating special units whose job was to guard such persons and intervene in case of attack.
Despite these efforts, the assaults have continued, and their occurrence in isolated villages throughout the territories has made them difficult to stop.
Proponents of elections in the territories argue that they could provide an alternative to violence by giving Palestinians an opportunity for peaceful political expression. However, the recent spate of inter-Arab killings has been cited by some Israelis as proof of their argument that elections, military withdrawal, and establishment of a Palestinian state would only unleash a blood bath on Israel's doorstep.