Israel's release of Mayor Bassam Shaka of Nablus signals an admission by Israel of the power possessed even by people who are under occupation, and of the influence of world public opinion upon the decisions of the state. The Begin government's goal behind the Shaka case was to silence Palestinian resistance to the autonomy talks concerning the West Bank and Gaza.
To Menachem Begin and his supporters, the "autonomy" that is being negotiated between his government and Anwar Sadat's, without any Palestinian participation or support, is the maximum Begin can allow for these territories and for the Palestinians living there. This position was stated as recently as Nov. 14 to a Swedish newspaper: "Self-determination?" Begin asked. "Excuse me, there is no question of a state . . . " With these negotiations sure to fail, his government hoped that by expelling one of the prominent opponeents of Camp David and its proposed autonomy, the government would be in a better situation to achieve Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank and Gaza.
Mayor Shaka was first accused of supporting and expressing sympathy with Palestinian "terrorism" in a private conversation with Gen. Danny Matt. As published in the Israeli press, however, Shaka did not support the 1977 Palestinian coast operation [in which 34 people were killed], but expressed his opinion that as long as Israel occupies Arab territory such operations are to be expected. The general was in fact trying to entrap Shaka by repeating his questions regarding the coastal operation and Shaka's position on it seven different times.
Because Shaka did not fall into the trap of making a statement for which he could be deported, another reason had to be invented to justify his deportation. Thus we were told that the mayor was a longtime agitator and a PLO supporter. If such reasoning had indeed been accepted, it would have set a dangerous precedent under which anybody in the West Bank could be deported, since the vast majority are PLO sympathizers.
In the midst of the Shaka case, the Israeli government announced its intention to establish 31 more settlements on the West Bank. This decision seems to have been made to pacify the extreme rightists in Israel, such as the Gush Emunim and their hero, Ariel Sharon, by signaling to them and to the rest of the world that the court's decision to "dismantle" the Elon Moreh settlement does not, in fact, change Israel's settlements policy. Israel, as former foreign minister Moshe Dayan contends, does not intend to withdraw from the West Bank and Gaza after five years. The autonomy plan that Begin's government presented in the negotiations with Egypt is titled "Proposal for autonomy for the Arab inhabitants of Judea, Samaria [the West Bank] and Gaza and the maintaining of Jewish settlements in those territories."
Israel has already expelled at least 1,156 individuals from the West Bank and Gaza over the past 12 years. Most were deported under the same accusation made against Shaka; that is, agitation and open opposition to Israel's occupation of Palestinian and Arab land.
But self-determination and national independence are principles too powerful to be shelved because of any such attempts at intimidation. Likewise, the confiscation of Arab lands for Israeli settlements, which creates more landless Palestinians who are then forced to seek income from hard labor inside Israel, will not reduce the Palestinians' desire for a homeland.
Once this land is confiscated or their homes demolished, they may become more radicalized. Although land is very important to all farmers, resistance to Israeli confiscation of Palestinian land is not due merely to the loss of potential material welfare of the Palestinian farmer and his family. While it is financially gratifying to have a bigger and better yearly harvest, Palestinian farmers' ultimate desire is for self-determination and national independence. Israel's confiscation of land on the West Bank and Gaza, privately owned or not, is foremost perceived by Palestinians as a serious obstruction to achieving their goal.
The Palestinians and many people around the world see in every newly established Israeli settlement on the West Bank and Gaza Israel's determination to hold on to "Judea and Samaria." They see each of these settlements as illegitimate acts that violate many U.N. resolutions, the Fourth Geneva Convention and other international agreements.
The Israeli Supreme Court decision to remove Elon Moreh, although important, does not prohibit the establishment of Israeli settlements on "government-owned land." This also, for the Palestinians, will be fiercely resisted because it is in direct conflict with their desires to build a Palestinian state on Palestinian soil.