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Returning Deportees Oppose Peace Plan : Mideast: About half the Palestinians exiled to Lebanon in December are heading home. They say they will work against autonomy proposal.

September 08, 1993|MARILYN RASCHKA and MARK FINEMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

MARJ ZAHOUR, Lebanon — As the "Jericho Seven" prepared their last tent supper on Tuesday and packed their duffels with two changes of clothes and the worn family photos that have been their solace during nine months of limbo, Yusef Abdul-Rahman Walajah reflected on the Arab-Israeli diplomacy that has eclipsed him and his 395 fellow Palestinian deportees on their hillside in southern Lebanon.

He made a fist and thrust his thumb downward.

"I will no longer believe in any symbols. We have tried them all," said the 28-year-old construction worker. He was preparing for the arrival of the Israeli buses today or Thursday that will take nearly 190 of the men to an uncertain future that the Israeli government has said may well include jail cells.

As he sat in the tent he shares with six others from ancient, occupied Jericho, which soon may be a model of Israeli withdrawal and Palestinian self-rule, the young Islamic fundamentalist stressed that his first priority will be to fight the historic plan for peace proposed by Israel and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

"I will go home and explain and teach people the disadvantages of this autonomy proposal, but we will do so without violence," he stressed. "We will stick to our basic principles and try to change this plan."

On this almost-forgotten hilltop that the deportees have dubbed "The City of the Return," such was the sentiment on this eve of departure for some. Others must remain behind until December.

The deportees are members of one of the most fundamentalist of the Islamic Palestinian factions that long have disagreed sharply with Arafat and his Fatah wing of the Palestine Liberation Organization. These men and their Hamas faction were thrust into the international spotlight after Israel dumped them on the frozen hillside in southern Lebanon's no-man's-land last December.

In the months during which they braved snowstorms, spring floods and the blazing heat of summer, the sands of Palestinian politics have shifted dramatically. As the deportees prepared to return to their homes or perhaps jail cells in still-occupied lands Tuesday, there were few celebrations. Indeed, there were vows of confrontation with Israel and with Arafat.

"First of all, there will be no bloodshed within the Palestinian community. We will stand united," declared Dr. Abdulaziz Rantisi, the firebrand fundamentalist leader who has served as spokesman for the deportees, as he spoke to reporters on Tuesday. "We will stand united."

But he vowed that all returning deportees "will work to put an end to the (Arafat peace) plan . . . because it does not cover the minimum needs of the Palestinians."

Outside a nearby tent, however, geography professor Aziz Dweik, another outspoken leader of the group, made it clear that the fundamentalist struggle against the plan known as "Gaza-Jericho first" will be a turning point in Palestinian history. And he conceded that their fight against it may well take years.

"The Gaza-Jericho option and the idea of Palestinian autonomy (are) like a point of no return," he said.

At first, he said, large amounts of international aid money will pour into the Gaza Strip, Jericho and perhaps the rest of the occupied West Bank.

"But this will last just two years or so. Then, people will realize this paradise will become a hellfire--just as it did in Egypt."

Despite the depressing political stage now set for what so many had hoped would be a triumphal return, Dweik said some of the deportees do plan small departure celebrations today, largely because many believe they will merely be leaving their outdoor prison for an indoor one where celebrations will be more difficult.

"In fact, all the deportees realize they could spend a long time in prison," said Dweik.

"But the jails are at least on our sacred soil of Palestine," he said.

In another part of the camp, in a tent housing political radicals from the impoverished Gaza Strip, 36-year-old construction worker Jamal abu Shabban could not have agreed more. For him, it was personal.

As he watched his colleagues pack to leave, Shabban, who said he was certain he will be among those who will not be permitted to return until the year's end, spoke of more than the politics of the peace plan. He talked of the 10 children he has not seen in nearly as many months.

"I spoke to my 8-year-old son, Mohammed, on the telephone the other day," Shabban said. "I told him I would probably not be coming home, and even if I did, I would probably go back to prison.

" 'What's the difference?' I said. 'Prison here or prison there?' And my son said: 'No, Papa. Come back home. Go back to prison, if you must. But at least we can visit you there.' "

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