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Violence is imperiling the Arafat-Rabin pact.

GAZA - Spiraling violence between Jews and Palestinians in the Gaza and West Bank combined with the deaths of several local Palestinian leaders threatens to undermine the historic accord signed barely three months ago by Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin.

Not joy but confusion was typical of Gazan reaction to initial word of the accord. Streets swarmed with youths waving the Palestinian flag. "Believe me," one middle-class Gazan woman said, "no one is happy about the signing. What you see in the streets is for the flag, not the signing."

That kind of reaction might be expected from the militant Hamas movement, which objected to all peace negotiations on the terms set out in Madrid in October 1991. But this anger and confusion came from middle-class families in Gaza city, as well as refugees living in unparalleled squalor in the crowded camps where the intifadah began six years ago.

Anxiety spread as more Palestinians had time to examine the terms of the accord and found few assurances that real autonomy and relief from their massive suffering was on the way. "When will the (Jewish) settlers leave?" they asked. "Will we have harbors and airports so we can move freely in and out of our land? Who controls our borders? Are we assured economic independence, or will we be forced to make all transactions via Israel?"

Inhabitants of the Occupied Territories say the movement of people and goods is a fundamental issue. Without clarification, Palestinians fear they will continue to be controlled by Israel and only "managed" by their own Palestine Liberation Organization forces. These unsettled questions about spheres of control are behind renewed demonstrations against Israel's delays regarding the redeployment of their military and the rights of Jewish settlers in the territories.

Israeli settlements are scattered throughout Gaza and the West Bank. Virtual fortifications, they are satellites of Israel, their access roads protected by the Israeli army. Here live 120,000 of the most militant Zionists: armed, defiant pioneers willing to risk their lives to occupy what they believe is "greater" Israel. They commute by bus and car into Israel from their fortified colonies across Palestinian lands where local resistance to their presence is high.

The two peoples cannot completely avoid one another. This is the case with the Beit El Jewish settlement overlooking El Birch village in the West Bank, long a site of confrontations between Palestinians and militant settlers. Palestinians have been shot or run down by Jewish settlers speeding home or by soldiers defending Beit El, and, in return, Israelis have been attacked by the local Palestinian population or by militants operating there.

The complexity of these demographic facts - what are sometimes called "created facts" - is behind Palestinian and Israeli fears about implementation of the accord. "Who will control road access to the Jewish colonies?" they ask. Palestinians are barred from many of the roads on their own lands altogether.

Settlers ask, "If control of Palestinian populations is to be assumed by a new PLO force, what about those access roads?" Yet, if the Israeli army guards those roads, will they also have control over Palestinians using them? Palestinians say they will not accept this, that it makes a mockery of the accord. They say the Jewish settlers and the Israeli army have to leave, but the PLO has not been as blunt. And, thus far, Rabin has not confronted those settler communities with a deadline for their removal to within Israel.

Palestinians who did not welcome the accord have fresh arguments for their suspicions that Israel is not sincere. "We told you so," they say and call for demonstrations demanding Israeli withdrawal. Confrontations with the Israeli military result in more deaths and injuries. And the hunt goes on not only for Hamas militants but also for emerging recalcitrant PLO factions such as the group called Fatah Hawks.

At the time of the signing of the accord, some observers were predicting Hamas and the PLO would soon be engaged in civil war. The troubling cycle of killing under way is not along these lines. With the Jewish settlers now threatening to take matters into their own hands, no one can say what will bring the violence to an end. Arafat's arrival in Jericho in January is not expected to calm the situation.
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Title Annotation:Palestine Liberation Organization-Israel peace plan
Author:Aziz, Barbara Nimri
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Date:Dec 17, 1993
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