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Arab Unrest Is Entering New Phase : Greater Disruption of Trade Seen, Plus Anti-Israel Protests

February 21, 1988|KENNETH FREED | Times Staff Writer

RAMALLAH, Israeli-Occupied West Bank — The anti-Israeli rebellion in the occupied territories, now well into its third month, is entering a new phase.

While the often-violent confrontational tactics used by the Palestinians are to continue, according to sources close to the leadership of the uprising, they will be combined with intensified efforts to disrupt commerce and everyday life on the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The tactics include the resignations of municipal officials and increased refusal to pay taxes.

The Israelis, for their part, are countering with measures ranging from the increased use of night army raids in search of protest leaders to the setting up of police posts inside Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem.

Intentions Apparent

The dual nature of the Palestinian strategy was evident Saturday. There were scattered demonstrations throughout the country, which provoked Israeli forces into strong reaction. Two protesters were killed and at least eight others were injured.

At the same time, it was learned that at least half of the taxicab operators in the Gaza Strip will refuse to work today, further restricting the already limited ability of the 60,000 Gaza Arabs who work in Israel proper to get to their jobs.

Such efforts to keep workers from going to jobs in Israel and a continuing commercial strike by businessmen in the occupied territories have already affected the area economy, causing a drop in tax revenue and an increase in debt for suppliers of goods who are not getting paid by their Palestinian customers. Government officials estimate that Israeli suppliers are now up to $70 million in debt because of lack of payments from Arab businesses.

Attempt to Discredit

And the situation of Khalil Mussa Khalil, the mayor of the West Bank town of Ramallah, demonstrates another--and in the long run perhaps more significant--attempt at forcing the Israelis out by discrediting them internationally as oppressors.

Mayor Khalil isn't in jail, but he might as well be--a prisoner of the conflicting goals of the Israeli occupation force and the leaders of the uprising. He spends his days behind high walls and barbed wire. On the inside are armed guards; on the outside is a next-door neighbor who wants him out of his job.

Khalil was not elected mayor, he was appointed in 1986 by the Israeli military along with the four other members of the Ramallah Municipal Council. It was the method used throughout the occupied territories following a four-year period in which Israeli army officers served as mayors and municipal councilors to develop a local leadership as an alternative to the outlawed Palestine Liberation Organization.

Branded as Traitors

From the outset, Khalil and all the other appointed officials were branded as collaborators and traitors by the PLO and its supporters, none of whom is more vehement than Oudeh Rantisi, an Anglican priest and former elected deputy mayor of Ramallah who lives next to Khalil.

"He should resign," said the tough-talking but mild-mannered priest as he sat sipping tea in the living room of the boys home he runs. "He should never have accepted the position."

The priest said that the Israeli tactic had failed. "Khalil and the others would never dare run if there are elections. The PLO is the single legitimate representative of the people. The others are tools of the occupiers."

Actually, Khalil agrees in part. "I would not run in new elections," he said. "I'm too old and have had enough. Besides, I agree that the PLO is the legitimate representative of the Palestine people."

'I Won't Resign'

But, says the mayor, "I won't resign. That would mean giving over the municipalities to the Israelis. At least I am a Palestinian, and I respond to what the people want. The Israelis would only respond to what they want, not the people."

He added that there should be elections, "the sooner the better, but not as the Israelis want--to form a leadership alternate to the PLO but only to run local affairs."

Rantisi denied directly trying to pressure his neighbor to quit, but he nodded with approval at the suggestion that Khalil would lead a more comfortable and safer existence if he returned to his life as a property owner and restaurant operator.

Others are not so indirect. Khalil's life has been threatened; hence the heavy security and the cloistered life that left his wife muttering bitterly in Arabic during an interview in their richly appointed house.

Garrisoned Home

And on those days when Khalil ventures out of his garrisoned home, he finds all of his colleagues on the municipal council have quit, his office open only three hours a day, at best, and his opponents working to deny him tax revenue.

He is not the only one. Sources close to the uprising's leaders say four of the 11 municipal council members in the neighboring city of Al Bireh have quit while eight of the 11 members of the Alram municipal council have resigned.

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