Several Ministers Urging West Bank Status Change As Step Toward Autonomy

Several influential cabinet ministers are urging their colleagues to seize the opportunity provided by the Jordanian civil war last month to alter the status of the West Bank. They are pressing for elections to be held in West Bank towns and villages which, they believe, could be the first steps toward local autonomy for that occupied region. Israelis who support such steps claim that there is a growing political awareness, particularly among West Bank youth, that is bitterly opposed to King Hussein and regards the Palestinian guerrillas as ineffectual though it is favorably disposed toward them. They say the Jordanian civil war hardened anti-Hussein sentiments on the West Bank because of the slaughter of guerrillas by the king’s troops. At the same time, the West Bankers feel they can no longer look for political guidance to the other Arab states, notably Egypt, because they failed to prevent the bloodshed in Jordan. The death of President Nasser, who was popular among West Bankers, has further increased their feeling of isolation and has strengthened their determination to solve their problems by themselves.

A special cabinet committee headed by Premier Golda Meir will meet next week to decide whether and how to establish limited self government in the West Bank and other occupied Arab territories, it was learned today. The question has been on the agenda for some time. Deputy Premier Y’all Allon reportedly favors local Arab autonomy on the West Bank as the first step toward the eventual establishment of a Palestinian state which would co-exist with Israel. Defense Minister Moshe Dayan is reportedly opposed to the project. He said in an interview last week that two states in the region, one with its capital in Jerusalem and the other in Amman were “quite enough.” Israeli ministers say that West Bank elections would be on a small scale at first, limited to one or two towns. They would be carried out in accordance with Jordanian law, except that women would be allowed to vote, something forbidden by the Jordanian legal code. The last elections on the West Bank were held in 1964. The only Arabs who have voted since the June, 1967 Six-Day War are those in East Jerusalem which was annexed by Israel. They were permitted to vote in last year’s municipal elections but not in Israel’s national election. Proponents of West Bank elections admit that they will be hard to bring about. Israelis recognize that any initiative on their part would be regarded by the Arabs as self-serving and would be boycotted. The Israelis say the call for elections must come from the West Bank Arabs themselves and they believe the climate is now ripe.

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