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MIDDLE EAST: More West Bank Blues

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For the fourth time in six months, Israel last week was hauled before a United Nations panel to answer charges of cruelty to Arabs and Zionist expansion. The scene, as often before, was the 15-member Security Council, where Egypt accused Israel of “brutal and illegal actions” against the 650,000 Palestinians on the occupied Jordan West Bank. Zeh-di Labib Terzi, U.N. Spokesman for the Palestine Liberation Organization, urged the council to demand immediate Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank. Terzi’s request, if adopted, would certainly provoke another U.S. veto.

Cairo Friendship. Israeli U.N.

Ambassador Chaim Herzog dismissed Egypt’s move as “a game of one-upmanship with Syria.” Herzog’s point was well made. Cairo and P.L.O. Leader Yasser Arafat have been feuding since September over Egypt’s Sinai agreement with Israel. But lately Arafat has been even madder at Syrian efforts to impose peace in Lebanon and install a pro-Syrian President there, reducing the P.L.O.’s influence in the country. Suddenly last week the P.L.O. announced from Beirut that it had restored friendship with Cairo, and Egyptian Ambassador Ahmed Esmat Abdel Meguid went before the Security Council on behalf of the West Bank Palestinians.

Even as they rebutted the newest Arab attack publicly, however, Israeli officials privately fretted over their continuing problems in the U.N. Said an Israeli diplomat in Jerusalem: “These debates will not suffocate us, but they are difficult for us. They have already legitimized the P.L.O. and branded Israel as an outcast, and they are causing erosion of the U.S. position.” Herzog is now under orders to answer every charge instead of merely boycotting sessions where the P.L.O. appears. Israel is concerned that the U.S., having vetoed two previous anti-Israel Security Council resolutions, is becoming so exposed diplomatically as Jerusalem’s only friend that Americans may soon question the wisdom of this role and step up criticism of Israeli behavior on the West Bank.

Part of the problem is that the Arab charges contain a measure of truth. For nearly a decade, Jerusalem has touted the West Bank occupation as a model exercise. But today, the cumulative effects of nine years of occupation, rising Palestinian nationalism and Israeli moves toward permanent occupation are all contributing to rising tension. Arabs are alarmed by rumors of secret land purchases and the belligerent attempts of religious Jews to establish unauthorized settlements in these biblical lands. The most aggressive is Gush Emunim (the Group of Faith), whose settlement attempts and mass marches (TIME, May 3) are a major reason for violent Arab counterdemonstrations.

Seven Dead. To Israel’s discomfort, West Bankers voted heavily for pro-P.L.O. candidates in municipal elections sponsored by Jerusalem last month. Since February, West Bank towns have been rocked almost daily by protest strikes and demonstrations. With government permission—”We must maintain law and order,” Premier Yitzhak Rabin insists—troops broke up demonstrations roughly and cordoned off whole towns under curfew. Seven West Bank Arabs have been killed so far in clashes between soldiers and demonstrators.

Rabin’s government has been slow to deal with the Arab complaints. For one thing, the ultra-conservative National Religious Party has threatened to bring down the government if he moves against Gush Emunim. Consideration of reforms on the Israelis’ part is often foreclosed by new episodes of Arab terrorism. Last week, just as Israel was about to commence its 28th Independence Day celebrations, five pounds of dynamite on a parked motorcycle exploded in Jerusalem’s theater district, injuring 30 bystanders.

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