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News Analysis: Pattern of Palestinian Violence Connected to Talks, Cooperation

July 16, 1997
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Quiet broke out on the streets of Hebron early this week, raising the question: What accounts for the ebb and flow of recent violence in the territories?

There is a detectable pattern to events in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, where clashes between Israelis and Palestinians during the past several weeks have evoked images of the worst days of the pre-Oslo Palestinian uprising.

Those clashes, in turn, have given way to periods of relative calm.

Whether violence or calm prevails appears to be a direct result of two key factors: the level of cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and the level of daily contact between Jews and Arabs in the self-rule areas.

Weeks of rioting in Hebron came to a sudden end Monday, when 200 Palestinian police were deployed for the first time in two weeks along the area dividing the Palestinian-and Israeli-controlled parts of the city.

The move followed talks Sunday night between Palestinian security officials and the commander of Israeli forces in Hebron.

In return for the Palestinian pledge to try to maintain calm, Israel allowed the Palestinian shops located in areas that had been flash points for violence in recent days to reopen.

It is no coincidence that Hebron — the only West Bank town where Palestinians and Jews live side by side — has been the scene of the worst violence since Israeli-Palestinian negotiations came to a halt in mid-March.

Near-daily riots erupted there after fliers depicting the prophet Mohammed as a pig appeared in the town.

A Jerusalem woman has been detained on suspicion of distributing the fliers.

Over the weekend, demonstrators threw bombs and rocks at the Israeli troops, who responded with rubber bullets and tear gas. At least 19 Palestinians were wounded, including Palestinian journalists covering the protests.

Saturday’s clashes reportedly broke out after a group of Jewish settlers, returning from Sabbath prayers, threw stones at Palestinian youth.

Violence also has erupted recently in Nablus, where the Israeli army protects groups of yeshiva students who go there to pray and study at the Tomb of Joseph.

Rachel’s Tomb, another holy site that attracts Jewish worshipers to Bethlehem, has become another place of confrontations and violence.

In contrast, there have been no reported instances of violence in such West Bank towns as Jenin, Tulkarm and Kalkilya, where there is no Jewish presence.

The decreased tensions in Hebron — and Gaza — followed another important development: the first high-level meeting between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in months.

The negotiations have been stalled since March, when Israel began construction of a new neighborhood in southeastern Jerusalem.

The Palestinians viewed the move as pre-empting final-status talks on Jerusalem, whose eastern half they claim as the capital of a future Palestinian state.

At the meeting last week, officials discussed the opening of a Palestinian airport in Gaza and the creation of a safe passage route for Palestinians traveling between the West Bank and Gaza.

The head of the Palestinian Civil Aviation Authority said Monday that negotiators had agreed on landing and takeoff procedures at the airport as well as a name: the Gaza International Airport.

While security procedures at the airport still have to be worked out, progress was also reported in the discussions regarding the safe passage route and the opening of a seaport in Gaza.

All three topics are unresolved issues from the Interim Agreement that Israel and the Palestinian Authority signed in Washington in September 1995.

Progress on these issues may well have prompted Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat to seek a calming of the situation.

Indeed, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu repeatedly had held the Palestinian Authority responsible for the unrest, accusing the self-rule police of purposely not intervening to quell the riots.

“Their Palestinian police could easily restore order on the streets. It has chosen not to,” he said, prior to the police deployment in Hebron.

He also warned that if violence continues, Israel would take firm steps, “including measures that I don’t want to elaborate on now.”

In Gaza, meanwhile, cooperation — and concessions — also contributed to the cooling of tempers.

At the Jewish settlement of Morag, for example, Palestinians recently sought control over a piece of land between Morag and the settlements’ hothouses, claiming that they had legal rights to the land.

In reaction, the settlers fenced off the area, which, in turn, triggered violent Palestinian demonstrations at the site. One Palestinian youth died in clashes with Israeli security forces last week.

The violence was quelled after the Israeli army assured Palestinian landowners that they would have free passage over the land they claimed as theirs, until the Israeli Supreme Court decided the issue.

And at Gush Katif, the Israeli enclave within Gaza, a dispute over a Jewish memorial to a Jewish soldier was resolved — this time, Israel gave in.

At the Gush Katif junction — an area under Israeli security control and Palestinian civilian control — Palestinians protested the erection of a monument in memory of Yehuda Levy, a soldier killed in the three days of bloody rioting that erupted last September after Israel opened a new entrance to an archaeological tunnel located near Jerusalem’s Temple Mount.

The Palestinians objected to the monument on land they claimed as their own.

The army admitted that no one had the authority to erect the monument on the site without the approval of the Palestinian Authority, and the monument was removed, despite angry protests by the settlers and the family of the fallen soldier.

In another instance in Gaza, the Israeli army had stopped the municipality from projects on the beach of Khan Yunis, a move that led to Palestinian demonstrations.

This time, it was the Palestinian Authority that made the concession, bowing to Israeli control of the area and halting the demonstrations.

In each case, it was cooperation between the two sides, along with concessions, that saved each situation from spinning out of control.

It remains unclear whether these halting steps toward cooperation will bear fruit with a return to the bargaining table and progress toward the final- status talks.

Equally unclear is whether the proximity of Jews and Palestinians in certain portions of the self-rule areas will prove an insurmountable barrier toward achieving a full peace.

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