JERUSALEM (Jun. 18)
Unacknowledged but implicit cooperation between Israeli authorities and the Palestine Liberation Organization made possible the peaceful election of 11 officers to the Hebron Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday.
Encouraged by the Israeli authorities, these were the first such elections in the West Bank since 1964, when the territory was under Jordanian rule.
The Hebron elections featured two major blocs — secular and fundamentalist — with several independent candidates in between.
The candidates, stressing the apolitical nature of the Chamber of Commerce, cautioned against interpreting the elections as heralding the emergence of a local leadership that could serve as an alternative to the PLO.
But some Israelis hailed the voting as a sign that the Arab population was opting for a normal life instead of an escalation of the intifada.
Other observers pointed out that the elections could not have been held unless Hebron merchants got the green light from the PLO.
They noted, moreover, that even at the height of the intifada, organizations of engineers, lawyers and doctors held internal elections.
In any event, the Israeli authorities will allow similar elections in other West Bank towns.
The local Palestinian media, however, expressed concern that the Israelis might use the newly elected Chamber of Commerce as a means of controlling the Arab municipality, as was the case in Nablus.
In January 1986, Israel appointed Zafer al-Masri, head of the Nablus Chamber of Commerce, as mayor of that city.
The Palestinian moderate, with close family ties to Jordanian government figures, was assassinated that March. His murder was tied to both the Abu Nidal group and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
CONTACTS BETWEEN ISRAEL AND JORDAN
An anonymous caller had warned the Masri family to cease all political activities.
Masri’s appointment as mayor had been approved by Jordan and relatively moderate elements of the PLO following about 18 months of indirect contacts between Israel and Jordan.
In recent days, Hebron has been the scene of violent confrontations between militant Jewish settlers and the Arab population.
The latest incident occurred over the weekend, when Rabbi Moshe Levinger, leader of the Gush Emunim settlers group in Hebron, fired into the air after Israeli soldiers ordered him to stop.
Levinger, who served a brief jail term last year for killing an Arab merchant in Hebron, claimed he was firing to protect Jewish children from stone-throwing Arab youths.
The soldiers filed a complaint against him with the local police.
In another development Tuesday, King Hussein of Jordan promoted outgoing Foreign Minister Taher al-Masri to the office of prime minister.
Al-Masri. 49, is the son of a wealthy Nablus family and cousin to the slain Nablus mayor. His elevation to prime minister was interpreted as a royal gesture toward the West Bank Palestinians after years of chilly relations.