Security on West Bank is political liability for Israeli leader
When Israel's ruling coalition took office last fall it promised to improve daily life for the 750,000 Palestinians on the occupied West Bank. Now, Jewish settlers on the West Bank are complaining that the government's pledge to be more lenient has led to an increase in violent attacks on Jews by Arabs.
Last month, a Jewish woman from the Ofra settlement was raped. Last week, a Jewish bus was attacked in the Etzion settlement bloc and a Jewish motorist died after his car was hit by a Molotov cocktail near the Arab town of Qalqiliya.
The government's answer to the attacks came over the weekend when Israeli troops raided the Dheisheh refugee camp near Ramallah. Forty homes were searched and more than a dozen Palestinians arrested. Military sources said the arrests were made both in response to attacks on Jews near the camp, and to end growing violence within the camp between rival Palestinian factions.
The government says seditious materials was found in the possession of those arrested.
The arrests did not appease the settlers.
They do not feel the government is doing enough to protect them in an area they feel is growing increasingly radicalized. Spokesmen for the settlers issued statements threatening to establish settlements illegally if the government did not do more to support them. Rightist members of parliament called for expulsion of stone-throwers.
``The settlers never feel there can be enough security,'' grumbled one Israeli official source. ``If there were soldiers deployed every two feet across the West Bank, they would demand every foot.''
Security on the West Bank is a political sore spot for Prime Minister Shimon Peres. The prime minister devoted part of his Cabinet meeting Sunday to the matter and promised that the inner Cabinet would discuss security measures after Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin returned from Washington.
A source close to Mr. Peres, however, dismissed the settlers' complaints as a political ploy by the Likud faction. The Likud, whose ministers compose half the Cabinet, is worried about Peres's rising popularity and the growing popularity of far-right political parties. Public opinion polls show the Likud losing votes both to the Labor Party and to Kach, the ultranationalist party headed by Rabbi Meir Kahane.
``The West Bank is where Shimon is weak, and it is natural that the Likud should make an issue of it,'' said the source. Indeed, military sources said that the number of incidents against Jews on the West Bank has actually dropped in recent months. What is different, the sources said, is the types of incidents.
``People are throwing Molotov cocktails now instead of rocks,'' said one military source.
Peres is determined not to let the security issue be used either to force him into rescinding decisions to cut back on West Bank censorship and allow further personal freedoms for Palestinians, or to make him approve more settlements, sources close to him said.
Under the Labor-Likud coalition agreement, the government is pledged to build six new settlements in its first year, and a total of 27 during its four-year tenure.
Labor does not want to build more settlements on the West Bank because it believes each settlement reduces the chance of some day swapping land for peace with Jordan. So far, Peres has been able to stall because the nation's economic crisis makes it impossible to launch new settlements. The first six settlements have been approved, but exist only on paper.
Peres is walking a thin line. He has promised the Americans and the Egyptians that he will improve daily life on the West Bank and forestall settlement development. At home, however, he cannot afford to be seen as being ``soft on the Arabs.'' He does not want to give Likud hard-liners an issue to use to precipitate a coalition crisis that might bring down the government.
The Dheisheh raid was made partly to defuse the issue, one Labor source said. ``If we can make 20 arrests and prevent 20 settlements from being built, why not?''
A poll released Sunday by the prestigious daily, Haaretz, said that 51.7 percent of Israelis questioned said they were against building more West Bank settlements. In October 1981, 29.2 percent polled were opposed to and 58.3 percent favored more settlements.