JERUSALEM (Jun. 9)
There will be no Palestinian elections in the administered territories in October, Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir declared this week.
Appearing Tuesday before the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Shamir flatly denied rumors emanating from Palestinian sources that local elections would be held in the territories this fall.
Israeli sources have linked that speculation to comments made by U.S. Secretary of State James Baker. When Arab-Israeli peace talks formally opened in Madrid on Oct. 30, Baker expressed hope that an autonomy agreement would be reached within a year.
But only four brief rounds of talks have been held since the opening Madrid peace conference, and no agreement is in sight on the nature of proposed Palestinian autonomy or the format for elections to the institutions of autonomy, Israeli sources point out.
They say that Israel stands by its original proposal to start with experimental municipal elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. If successful, they would be followed by general elections to an autonomy council.
But Palestinian leaders, notably Faisal Husseini, have said Palestinians would hold elections without Israeli participation. Husseini serves as adviser to the Palestinian negotiating team participating in bilateral talks with Israel, but is widely regarded as its de facto leader.
Yasser Abed Rabo, head of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s information department, said the Palestinians would ask Moscow and Washington to supervise the elections to prevent Israeli interference.
Israel has always rejected an international presence in any elections held in the territories.
Shamir told the Knesset committee that all Israel is willing to do at this time is to negotiate over the nature of elections.
LOOKING FOR ALTERNATIVES IN GAZA
Shamir also referred to the situation in the Gaza Strip, where a two-week ban on the entry of Palestinian workers into Israel was partially lifted Monday.
But so far, only a few hundred workers have entered, compared to the 40,000 a day who normally commute to jobs in Israel. That is due in large measure to the fact that entry is restricted to Palestinians over age 28 who hold permanent permits to work in Israel.
Several other restrictions also apply, much to the exasperation of Israeli employers who depend on Palestinian labor. Several dozen of them demonstrated Tuesday at the Erez check-point at the Gaza Strip to protest the refusal of the authorities to grant entry permits to their employees.
But the dearth of workers was also caused by a half-day strike called by the intifada Unified Command to mark the 55th month since the start of the Palestinian uprising.
Apart from frustrated employers, Israeli military and security authorities have warned that continued restrictions on the movement of Gaza Strip residents would create an explosive situation.
The ban was imposed after the May 24 slaying of Helena Rapp, an Israeli schoolgirl stabbed to death outside her home in Bat Yam by an unemployed day laborer from the Gaza Strip.
Since than, Gaza Strip Arabs who depend on jobs in Israel have been unable to earn a livelihood and disturbances have already erupted in the territory.
Shamir told the Knesset members that Israel’s policy in the Gaza Strip is to “eat the cake and have it, too.”
He said the restrictions on movement into Israel are not an “absolute solution” and by no means the only solution. The government is seeking other ways to prevent hunger in the territory, on the one hand, and terrorism in Israel on the other, Shamir said.