THREE weeks after the massacre of 30 Palestinian worshipers in a mosque in Hebron, ensuring the security of Palestinians in that historic town has become the major prerequisite for resumption of Israeli-Palestinian talks on Palestinian autonomy. Implementation of self-rule was to take place first in the Gaza Strip and West Bank town of Jericho.
``Hebron now comes first. For the PLO to proceed with the `Jericho-Gaza First' plan, Hebron must come first,'' explains a close aide to Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat.
The PLO leader is said to have been very dismayed by Wednesday's meeting between President Clinton and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in Washington.
Although Mr. Clinton called on Israel to ensure the security of the Palestinians, there was no public response by either Israel or the United States addressing Palestinian concerns. (Israeli General in Hebron, Page 6.)
The PLO has demanded an international force in the occupied territories to protect Palestinians, the dismantling of some settlements, and the disarming of the settlers. During a flurry of meetings last week with American and Israeli delegations in Tunis, Mr. Arafat put forward specific proposals mainly aimed at defusing the seething tension in Hebron:
* A combination of an international presence and a symbolic Palestinian force in Hebron.
* The evacuation of settlers from 60 buildings in Hebron.
* The prevention of armed settlers from entering Arab-populated areas or traveling on roads used by Arabs.
Neither the US nor Israel has responded to the new suggestions. Mr. Rabin, however, suggested that he will allow a Palestinian police force to join the Israeli force in Hebron.
But the PLO rebuffed the offer after discovering Rabin wanted to revive the old Palestinian police force. That force, unarmed and confined to following Israeli instructions, resigned in 1987 after start of the intifadah, uprising, against Israeli occupation.
``This will not work. We have agreed with the Israelis to form a new Palestinian force that is formed and controlled by the PLO,'' says Mamdouh Noufal, a former Palestinian military leader, who recently was trained in London to restructure a new Palestinian force. ``They are trying to revive a subordinate, powerless police force charged with helping the Israeli Army to protect the settlers and the Palestinians in Hebron.''
Arafat had apparently decided to make specific demands regarding Hebron to contain the seething anger, following the mosque massacre, of predominantly middle-class Hebron, the home of some of the most influential Palestinian families.
``The Hebronites have made it clear to Arafat that neither he nor the PLO will be welcomed or recognized if the organization does not do something to ensure that the massacre will not be repeated,'' says one PLO official in Tunis.
Leaders of Arafat's own Fatah group in the West Bank and Gaza have also made it clear to him that they will not be able to sustain any support for his leadership or for the movement if he resumes the talks with Israel.
The PLO leader's position was further aggravated by the US refusal to vote on the UN Security Council resolution calling for international protection for the Palestinians in the occupied territories.
The draft resolution, which was made available to the Monitor, basically endorses the principle of providing protection for the Palestinians without outlining specific means. However, the US has suggested that the resolution should be voted on paragraph by paragraph, apparently to avoid endorsing a clause affirming that East Jerusalem was part of the occupied territories.
The ``controversial clause'' invokes the 1949 Geneva convention, which stipulates that nations under occupation should be protected. It is applicable to all the occupied territories seized in 1967, including East Jerusalem.
The US has never formally recognized Israel's annexation of East Jerusalem, and US officials this week said policy had not been changed. Tunis-based Palestinian officials and Arab diplomats in New York said that the US and Israel have offered to pass the resolution if the PLO agrees to hold a meeting between two top Israeli and Palestinian officials.
But Arafat told Dennis Ross, US representative to the Middle East talks, that he was not ready to concede regardless of pressures exerted on him.
``Arafat said: `You are the superpower, and you can keep on postponing the voting for as long as you want. The Security Council resolution represents the international responsibility for the Palestinians. Therefore, you cannot use it as a bargaining chip for a quid pro quo deal. If the delay persists, I will hold you responsible for the massacre in front of the Arab and Muslim nations,' '' his aide told the Monitor.
Mr. Ross and the Israeli government have proposed that Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and PLO executive committee member Mahmoud Abbas, signatories of the autonomy agreement, meet to discuss the demands.
But Arafat refused. ``They are withholding the vote to get at the UN in return for the resumption of talks.... Arafat cannot accept this package, the PLO will only resume if practical steps are taken to ensure the protection of the Palestinians.''