Security a concern for both Israelis, PLO Composition of police force, logistics still to be determined in Mideast talks

September 07, 1993|By Dan Fesperman | Dan Fesperman,Staff Writer Staff Writer Doug Struck contributed to this story.

JERUSALEM -- The grim hypothetical question goes like this: A Palestinian terrorist sprays a bus load of Israelis with a machine gun, then bolts south, vanishing into a refugee camp on the Gaza Strip. In the new age of peace and Palestinian autonomy, who will go after him?

Will it be a police force of his peers, some of whom might once have been his comrades-in-arms? Or do you send in the Israeli Defense Force, whose presence in the camp would signal to embittered Palestinians that there was really nothing new about autonomy after all?

Such questions are at the core of what could be the greatest puzzle of the peace agreement. Who will protect whom? How? And when? As both sides ponder these matters -- often with widely varying interpretations -- the security issue is becoming the fault line along which a proposed plan on Palestinian self-rule in the Gaza Strip and West Bank town of Jericho seems most fragile.

Israeli Minister of Police Moshe Shahal tried to offer an explanation of what might be ahead in a briefing yesterday, but when the going got tough he often fell back on the line: "These things will be negotiated immediately after the agreement is signed."

To get an idea of how difficult these negotiations might be, one need only measure the distance between some ideas already proposed by the two sides.

On the question of the police force in the autonomous zones, Mr. Shahal says his preference is a joint Israeli-Palestinian force, "patrolling together." And there doesn't need to be that many police, he says. After all, he adds, there are only 20,000 Israeli police, and the Gaza Strip is only 7 by 25 miles, while Jericho has only 15,000 residents.

Some Palestine Liberation Organization members, meanwhile, have talked of cobbling together a security force from old units of the Palestine Liberation Army, drawing from guerrilla camps in Sudan, Yemen, Iraq, Algeria and Libya. Palestinian leader Faisal al-Husseini has said that it may take from 20,000 to 30,000 men to do the job.

One result of these kinds of differences is that hard-liners on both sides have had plenty of ammunition to shoot down support for the proposed peace plan.

Yisrael Madad, a spokesman for the Yesha Council, an organization representing the approximately 100,000 Jewish settlers of the occupied territories on the West Bank and Gaza, has had little trouble whipping up fear. "We're talking about a very dangerous situation," he said. "We don't have any idea if there are going to be people [in the settlements] who will start digging bunkers or not. The situation on the ground will be impossible."

From the Palestinian hard-liners' perspective, the agreement seems to offer the Israelis plenty of latitude for the same kinds of brutal crackdowns that have kept anger simmering in the 6-year-old intifada of Palestinians in the occupied territories.

The biggest such loophole is already written into the proposed agreement. Mr. Shahal said the pact provides for "freedom of movement for Israeli citizens and the IDF [Israeli Defense Forces] throughout the roads of Gaza Strip and Jericho." So, while IDF soldiers will withdraw from those zones, they apparently will be able to re-enter at any time.

Israel will also retain control of security for its settlements within the autonomous zones, and some of that protection will come from new civil guard units, Mr. Shahal told settler leaders at a meeting Sunday. Depending on how that is carried out, the units could end up as either a glorified neighborhood watch program or a well-armed militia.

From the viewpoint of the settlers, Israel is on the verge of allowing its oldest, bitterest enemies to take up arms on their own soil.

Mr. Shahal scoffed at some of the numbers of Palestinian policemen mentioned by the PLO, but he allowed that "there will be a possibility to have Palestinian forces which will have been trained in other countries, such as Jordan and Egypt."

He said the attitude toward the Palestinians "ought to be different."

That kind of statement tends to drive Israeli settlers crazy. After years of hearing Palestinians complain of beatings, searches, roadblocks and other harassment by the IDF, some settlers wonder if a little payback might be coming.

"Is a Palestinian policeman going to be sitting at the guardhouse checking our ID cards every time we come and go?" asked Liliana el-Baz, a social worker from the settlement of Adam, a few miles northeast of Jerusalem. "I would probably want to leave if that is the case."

The settlers also wonder about the hypothetical question of the runaway terrorist, although Mr. Shahal seemed less worried, hinting that the PLO might be just as eager as the Israelis to crack down on Islamic fundamentalist organizations such as Hamas.

Maybe that's why Hamas members sometimes sound more worried than the Israelis about the prospects of a PLO police force. Majdi Akeel, a science lecturer at Gaza's Islamic University, a center for Hamas activity, chafes at the thought of a huge police force of up to 30,000 favored by Mr. al-Husseini.

"I think 500 or 1,000 is enough for Gaza and the West Bank," he said. "We don't need policemen to arrest anyone. We don't need policemen to stop any demonstrations. We only need some police as traffic guards and to guard a few ministries."

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