Israel to keep territories closed indefinitely, limit Palestinians' entry afterward

April 12, 1993|By New York Times News Service

JERUSALEM -- Convinced that it has found the key to curbing attacks on Israelis, the government decided yesterday to keep the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip closed indefinitely and to reduce sharply the number of Palestinians it will eventually allow back into Israel to work.

The extension of a 12-day-old entry ban against all but a few thousand Palestinians was opposed by several Cabinet ministers, who argued that hundreds of thousands of people in the territories would be left without sources of income and that pent-up frustrations would explode at some point in new violence.

Army commanders reportedly have issued similar warnings.

The right-wing opposition has raised its own objections, expressing fears that the center-left government intends to use this separation of the Arab and Jewish populations as a first step toward an Israeli withdrawal from the lands it has held since 1967.

But Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin seems to be using it as the basis for an evolving new relationship between Israel and the 1.8 million Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. The fact that no Jew has been killed by an Arab since he announced the entry ban on March 31, after a month in which 15 Israelis died, is seen by a majority of his Cabinet as evidence that the policy works.

"The source of the threat to our daily security is coming from the fact that about 120,000 Palestinians came daily to work in Israel," Health Minister Haim Ramon said, adding that the ban would be reviewed weekly. "We are not going to return to this situation."

Labor Minister Ora Namir predicted that when the ban is lifted, only 70,000 Palestinians would be permitted to work in Israel.

Her goal seems to be to eliminate the 40,000 to 50,000 day laborers who used to enter illegally and received far less than the minimum wage.

The Cabinet agreed yesterday to provide financial aid to unemployed Palestinians and said it would study ways to stimulate investment and create jobs in the territories.

But officials acknowledge that it will not be easy to wean Israeli employers from inexpensive Arab labor or to persuade out-of-work Israelis to take jobs that they have rejected despite an 11 percent unemployment rate.

A sign of those difficulties is the government's decision to poke a temporary hole in the entry ban, letting in 7,000 Palestinian farm workers to help keep Israeli growers avoid losing millions of dollars.

Palestinian leaders say they, too, want a separation from Israel, but they have protested that the entry ban has turned the territories into "a massive collective prison," inflicting hardship by depriving people of work and by making it difficult for them even to move around in the West Bank.

Many of the 65,000 Christians in the territories, especially the Greek Orthodox, the largest group, also accuse Israel of interfering with their religious freedom. The Greek Orthodox community asked the Israeli High Court of Justice yesterday to order the army to allow its members into Jerusalem for Easter, which they will celebrate next Sunday. Some Christians who follow Latin rites were able to reach Jerusalem for Easter services yesterday, but many were denied permits.

Despite their objections, Palestinian leaders do not seem eager to use the ban as a reason to avoid a new round of Middle East peace talks scheduled to begin in Washington on April 20.

It appears increasingly likely that they will show up, after four months of resistance because of Israel's deportation in mid-December of about 400 men Israel accuses of being Islamic militants. The men were sent from the occupied territories to Lebanon.

Over the weekend, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres suggested strongly that Israel would make concessions to the Palestinians, including direct negotiations with east Jerusalem political leader Faisal al-Husseini. Until now, Israel has argued that dealing face to face with anyone from east Jerusalem would undermine its position that Jerusalem's status is not negotiable.

Mr. Husseini said for the first time that the return of all of the deportees, though desirable, was no longer a condition for Palestinian participation in the talks. No decision has been made, he told Israel Radio, but "there is a great willingness to return."

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