Jerusalem (Aug. 13)
A week after assuming his duties as Israel’s new Defense Minister, Ariel Sharon, generally regarded as Israel’s most hawkish personality, startled Israelis and Arabs alike yesterday by announcing a new conciliatory policy toward Arabs living in the administered territories.
The changes were embodied in a series of directives issued by the Defense Ministry. Ministry sources said the purpose of the new policy was to speed re-
sumption of dialogue with local Palestinian leaders in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The directives stipulate that:
Terrorists and civilians will be treated differently.
Efforts will be made to prevent acts which might humiliate the Arab residents in daily contacts between them and the Military Government.
Soldiers will stop entering schools to disperse demonstrations.
Collective punishment of villages or neighborhoods for security violations within their areas will be halted.
Israeli soldiers will be instructed to show greater courtesy to Arab residents, particularly when holding them for road block checks.
The new policy will aim to create a joint framework of “common life” with the Arabs “in a spirit of mutual respect, to implement the policy of the government, as set up in the Camp David agreements,” in the words of the Ministry sources.
There will be an “open door and a listening ear” to Arab leaders who are willing to cooperate with Israel in resolving the autonomy issue.
An effort will be made to create a situation in which such potential Arab partners to the negotiations will not remain silent out of fear of the Palestinian terrorist groups or of the Israeli Government.
With adherence to the policy of no negotiations with the Palestine Liberation Organization, there is to be a concerted effort to increase the influence of “moderates” in the territories, to include physical protection of such Arabs so that they will not fear to speak out.
PLAN CATCHES MANY OFF GUARD
The Sharon plan caught most Arab public figures off guard. Generally, they had expected the new Defense Minister to live up to his reputation as a hard-liner by further limiting their political feedom.
The response of those Arabs to what appeared to be a desire by Sharon to open a new page was to welcome the easing of the “iron-fisted” policy of the Military Government. They also welcomed Sharon’s intention to start meetings with the moderates.
Mayor Elias Freij of Bethlehem welcomed the new policy, calling Sharon “courageous,” adding he hoped to meet with Sharon soon. Freij also expressed the hope that the new policy plans would lead to greater understanding between the Arab residents and the Israeli government.
Gaza Mayor Rashad A-Shawa took a different view, declaring that the orders to the Israeli army to treat the Arab resident better was a side issue. He said the real question was the Palestinian right to self-determination, which he said Israel avoided.
Karaim Khalaf, Ramallah’s radical mayor, refused to comment on the plan, asserting that, every time he made a public statement, he was “called in for interrogation.” Bassam Shaka, the Mayor of Nablus, who lost both legs in a bomb attack on June 2, 1980, commented, “it should be interesting to find out what Sharon’s reaction will be when he meets me and finds out I oppose” the Jewish settlements on the West Bank.
Hanna Siniora, editor of the East Jerusalem daily, Al-Fajr, which is identified with the Arab radical nationalist line, said “Sharon’s declared policy is to provide a homeland for the Palestinians in the East Bank of Jordan. This we vigorously oppose. If Mr. Sharon wants to start a dialogue, he should start it on this main issue — self-determination for the Palestinians.”
Leaders of the Jewish settlements and representatives of the ultra-nationalist Tehiya movement in the Knesset welcomed the “human aspects” of the new plan, but they questioned its political aspects.
They said that while Sharon wanted to create a “proper atmosphere” for implementing the autonomy plan, they — as foes of autonomy — felt that a more humane treatment of the Arab residents would work only if operated within a framework of full Israeli sovereignty over the territories.
Observers commented that the new Sharon proposals are reminiscent of the declared policies of then Defense Minister Moshe Dayan soon after Israel took control of the territories following the 1967 Six-Day War. They noted that the more open policy subsequently was restricted several times, partly by Dayan himself, who was the first to use “collective punishment” as an anti-terrorist measure in the territories.