Palestinians disillusioned by peace process gone sour Broken promises, arrests rankle those who sought accord

March 29, 1996|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

BIR ZEIT, Occupied West Bank -- Nazmi Jubeh was a supporter of the Israeli-Palestinian peace plan. He helped the negotiations, opposes violence and believed in peace -- until now.

Yesterday, the university dean sat stunned, pondering the dawn raids in which Israeli soldiers swept through three Palestinian villages, rousted residents from beds and took away 376 Bir Zeit University students.

The raids came on the day Israel had pledged to withdraw from the West Bank town of Hebron, but did not. They came at the start of week seven of an Israeli blockade that has imposed an economic squeeze on Palestinians, although an agreement was announced in Washington last night to ease the closure.

And the Israelis are not the only ones disturbing the Palestinians. A week earlier, Palestinian police raided the same university under pressure of Israeli demands that they "do more" against terrorism in the wake of a suicide bomb campaign that killed 61 in Israel.

"We must detain suicide bombers before they perpetrate" an attack, Israeli Maj. Gen. Ilan Biran said of the arrests yesterday.

"This is the Israeli version of peace -- a massive show of power," said Mr. Jubeh, dean of students at the West Bank university three miles from Ramallah. "Everything is for the Israelis and nothing for the Palestinians."

As Israel continues its "get tough" policy against Palestinians, the broad sweep of the measures is eroding Palestinian confidence that there can be peace with Israel.

The Palestinians see the arrests, the closure, the raids on Palestinian institutions as the same military occupation they have endured since the 1967 Middle East war, when Israel conquered the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

"The peace process is a sham," said Assad Tanina, 19, a commerce student at Bir Zeit. "We're not even safe from arrest in our own villages."

Israel has arrested more than 800 people since the crackdown began. Palestinian police reportedly have arrested nearly 900 in the Gaza Strip. Israel has closed down dozens of schools, charities and organizations that it says are associated with Islamic extremists responsible for terrorist attacks.

"We must act against the institutions, the mosques, the charitable organizations, the societies that preach for jihad [holy war]," General Biran said yesterday on Army Radio. "You have to reach the suicide bombers through their family, their community, their village, which are breeding grounds."

The arrests yesterday were in an area of supposed "shared responsibility" of Palestinian and Israeli authorities. But Mahmoud Abu-Hilal, the officer in charge of the nine-member Palestinian police force in the village of Bir Zeit, said he was ordered by superiors to stay in the station.

Growing dissatisfaction

"We just sat here and drank coffee and tea" while Israeli forces swept through the area, he said.

The apparent willingness to bow to Israel has soured many Palestinians on Yasser Arafat, the president of the Palestinian authority, whom many cheered at the start of the peace process.

"The Palestinian police just do what Israel demands," said Ibrahim Khraishi, president of the Bir Zeit student body, as he headed toward a student protest against the arrests.

The 1993 accords reached in Oslo, Norway, outlining peace between Palestinians and Israel have generated fierce resistance by Arab and Jewish radicals. But opinion polls showed growing support among Palestinians when Israel began the gradual withdrawal of its troops from occupied areas.

A six-month lull in Arab-Israeli violence starting last August produced optimism that the peace plan might work. But after the January assassination -- reputedly by Israeli agents -- of a Palestinian bomb-maker in the Gaza Strip, the militant Islamic fundamentalist group Hamas retaliated with a string of suicide bombings.

The bombings have brought Israel's implementation of the peace plan to a halt.

Prime Minister Shimon Peres, the chief architect of the peace plan, now directs the crackdown that threatens it. Faced with plummeting support among Israelis as he approaches a May 29 election, Mr. Peres has been compelled to suspend progress with the Palestinians and embrace harsh measures, or risk losing to an opposition hostile to the whole peace plan.

Mr. Peres said this week that Israel would not honor its commitment under the Oslo accords to withdraw troops from Hebron until Mr. Arafat "does more" against extremists.

"When the blood of our people is spilling in the streets, we cannot negotiate, or redeploy from Hebron, or [start] permanent status negotiations," Foreign Minister Ehud Barak said Wednesday.

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