West Bank Arab town's angry peace

July 29, 1995|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,Jerusalem Bureau of The Sun

JENIN, Israeli-Occupied West Bank -- This Palestinian town looks forward to the end of Israeli occupation the way a partner in a bad marriage anticipates a divorce: The end will be a relief, even if it means going broke.

Palestinian and Israeli negotiators are scheduled to resume their talks tomorrow, after a suspension caused by a suicide bombing Monday that killed six Israelis in Tel Aviv. The negotiators are finishing plans for an Israeli withdrawal from major West Bank cities and a partial pullback from villages this year.

"We are ready to move into Jenin in 10 hours" after the Israelis leave, boasted Nasser Yusef, the chief of Palestinian police, on a recent tour of Jenin, a farm town in the northern tip of the West Bank.

Abdel Salem al-Boushe, sitting behind the desk of his hardware store in Jenin, is not so convinced of the Palestinians' readiness. Who will supply his electricity? He does not know. Who will run the telephone system? He is not sure.

Who will pick up the city trash? Collect taxes? Supply the water? Repair the roads? None of the answers is known to the shop

owner.

"I think Jenin is not going to be any better than Gaza," said Mr. al-Boushe. "Arafat had time to plan things there, and he did not. Jenin will be the same."

But Mr. al-Boushe supports Yasser Arafat and the plan to turn Jenin over to the Palestinian National Authority. "I want a democratic society where I could live with my family safely," he said. "We don't have that under the Israelis."

The Israeli withdrawal from towns in the West Bank will create separation pains on both sides. Israelis worry about loosening military control of neighbors they fear may be hostile and violent. And Palestinians wonder about how they are going to survive economically.

After the Palestinian Authority took over most of the Gaza Strip in May, 1994, the economy there took a precipitous drop.

The Palestinian National Authority concentrated on establishing a large police force, with civil services as an afterthought.

Israel aggravated matters by throttling trade from the Gaza Strip and stopping the transit of workers whose jobs in Israel were Gaza's chief sources of income.

Jenin already has seen signs of a similar pattern. At each step of the peace process, the economy in this town of 22,000 has

suffered.

The fertile valley here flourishes with wheat, grain, vegetables and olives. Traditionally, Jenin's chief market for this produce was Jordan. Much of the remainder was sold across the "Green Line" -- the border between the West Bank and Israel -- in northern Israeli towns such as Nazareth, Hadera and Afula.

But when Israel and Jordan reached a peace pact, Jenin's exports to Jordan suddenly stopped.

Officials blame the new trade regulations imposed by the agreement, and glowering relations between the Palestinian National Authority and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

"We used to sell 50 percent of our produce to Jordan. After the peace agreement, that stopped. Now they take nothing at all," said Samir el-Ahmed, a manager of the Jenin agricultural cooperative.

And as Israel and the Palestinians have negotiated their impending separation, trucks hauling produce from Jenin into Israel have increasingly been blocked.

"For almost a year now, we haven't been able to sell inside the Green Line," complained Jamal Sinan, chairman of the Chamber of Commerce. "Israel now doesn't allow it. If the new agreement makes such a separation, it will be like a jail for us. It will be very difficult."

Hassan Mohammad Nazzal already has seen the effects of peace, and he is angry. The 30-year-old farmer has six acres of tomatoes and orange trees one mile outside of town. Earlier this month Israeli authorities gave him a letter saying the land would be confiscated.

Israel's withdrawal is only to the edge of West Bank towns, and Mr. Nazzal's land is where Israel will build a new military post, the letter said.

The next day, bulldozers moved onto his land. Mr. Nazzal obtained a temporary injunction from Israel's Supreme Court, but he is unlikely to stop the bulldozers for long.

"I expect the Israelis to do this, but I am very disappointed in the Palestinian Authority," he said. "I went to them and said I am losing my land. But nobody offered me any help."

The farmer is soft-spoken. But the anger shows in his quiet words.

"You can't imagine how I feel. This is my land. It's my history. They have taken it from me and I have no way to defend it," he said.

What local government there was in Jenin has disappeared. The Israeli-appointed mayor is considered a traitor by other Palestinians, and reportedly has moved from town.

Mr. Arafat has appointed a new city council. But it has not really begun working, and already is hampered by complaints that the council members are only from Fatah, Mr. Arafat's political faction.

Such squabbles detract from the imposing agenda facing local authorities. In the Gaza Strip, Israel has temporarily continued to provide utilities.

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