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Israeli Official Believes That Most Palestinians on the West Bank Are Moving Away from the PLO

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Gen. Ephraim Sneh, the civilian administrator of the West Bank, believes that most of the 800,000 Palestinians in Judaea and Samaria are moving away from the Palestine Liberation Organization to a more “realistic” position.

“I believe the majority of Palestinians understand that Israel is a fact” and “they have to live peacefully beside Israel,” Sneh said in an interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency Monday. “They understand the slogans of the PLO to destroy the Jewish State are irrelevant and far from reality.”

Sneh admits that the “sympathy of the Palestinians is still with the PLO.” But he said there is a growing “disillusionment” with PLO terrorist activities which they see offer no hope for a solution of the Palestinian problem. “Most of the Palestinian residents of the West Bank reject terrorism,” he maintained.

He said there are less riots, demonstrations and strikes on the West Bank and terrorist incidents have decreased. Sneh conceded that the Palestinian youth are more likely to be radical and militant as elsewhere in the world. “It changes with age,” he added.

Sneh is in the United States as part of a program of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith to enhance the dialogue between Israelis and Americans. A physician, most of his career has been with the Israel Defense Force’s medical corps. He headed the medical team participating in the Israeli rescue mission at Entebbe, Uganda.

Sneh has headed the civil administration of the West Bank since July, 1985. He is in charge of government activity in the area except for security which is under the military administration. The civilian administration was created in 1981, but like the military administration, is under the Ministry of Defense. It does not have authority for the Jewish settlements on the West Bank which are under Israeli law.

A NON-INTERFERENCE POLICY

While he is in effect in charge of the civilian government of the West Bank, Sneh stressed that it is Israel’s policy “not to interfere with the day-to-day lives of the West Bankers.” He noted that in the civil administration 13,000 of its employees are local Arabs and only 300 are Israelis. In addition, he said Israel wants to improve the quality of life for the Palestinians. One example he gave was in the economic field, where Sneh said Israel has encouraged investment from inside and outside the West Bank “very liberal policies” and butting “bureaucratic obstacles.”

Sneh also said that in four major West Bank towns — Nablus, Ramallah, Beit Jallah and Hebron — existing hospitals are being expanded into regional medical centers with modern facilities.

He said the number of hospital beds on the West Bank are being increased by 50 percent within the next two years. In addition, primary care clinics are being established in the rural areas. The health standards on the West Bank are better than most Arab countries and almost as good as Israel, he noted.

All this should answer charges that Israel wants to drive the Arabs out of the West Bank.” If we have a policy which improves the quality of life of Palestinians on the West Bank it doesn’t mean our goal is to drive them out,” he said.

NOT A SUBSTITUTE FOR PEACE SETTLEMENT

Sneh said that the Israeli policy on the West Bank is “not a substitute” for an eventual peace settlement. Instead it is to “change the atmosphere on the West Bank” to lead to negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

He said the Israeli policy of allowing the Palestinians control of their daily lives was not autonomy. He said this could only come about through negotiations, not unilaterally. Nor was Israel sharing rule on the West Bank with Jordan, Sneh stressed. “We are the government of the West Bank,” Sneh said.

Most West Bank Palestinians are Jordanian citizens and Jordan has recently begun an economic development program on the West Bank, he noted. Sneh said that most of the Palestinians eventually want to see a Jordanian-Palestinian state.

He noted that on his current trip to the U.S., the question he is most asked about is his opinion on arms shipments to Iran. “I am very glad this is not in my jurisdiction,” he quipped. “I have enough problems of my own.”

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