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Israelis See Possibility of Dialogue with West Bank Palestinians in Wake of PLO Crisis

The crisis within the Palestine Liberation Organization had led Israeli officials to believe that a dialogue can be initiated with Palestinian elements on the West Bank, although negotiations on a political solution remain in the uncertain future.

The officials believe the time is ripe for the emergence of an alternative Palestinian leadership to the PLO and that such leadership is open to new ideas although no Palestinian has dared admit it. There have been hints nevertheless in several East Jerusalem Arabic newspapers in recent days.

None has called openly for negotiations with Israel. The only body that does so is the Village Leagues; but even the Israeli administration which created and financed the Leagues, views them now as politically impotent.

Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, the coordinator of government activities in the territory, spoke on television this week of a generation gap on the West Bank with respect to attitudes toward Israel. The young generation continues to demonstrate violently against the Israeli presence. Their elders are more circumspect and more realistic, according to Ben-Eliezer.

The mature Palestinian elements on the West Bank, Israeli policymakers say, have become disenchanted with the PLO– with both the faction loyal to Yasir Arafat and the Syrian and Libyan backed dissidents trying to destroy Arafat. Those elements, who were in their teens when Israel occupied the West Bank in 1967, recognize that time is working against their best interests; that today’s PLO is not the PLO of 1976; and that the territory itself has changed irrevocably with the absorption of thousands of Jewish settlers.

The Israeli policymakers believe that a dialogue can develop between Israel and a new, emerging Palestinian leadership regardless of what political solution is eventually found. Such a dialogue, they say, can create a favorable atmosphere for a political solution but should not be dependent on one.

The Israelis admit that as long as the autonomy talks called for by the Camp David process remain frozen, very little of substance can be discussed with the Palestinians. The only subject which can and should be taken up now is “coexistence,” they say.

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