The soft light of dawn was settling over Ramallah and knots of Palestinian laborers began gathering on streetcorners in the morning chill as Mohammed climbed into a car and started his daily commute to Tel Aviv.

A former guerrilla in the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine in Beirut and a veteran of two years in Israeli prisons, Mohammed was on his way to work. His job: building prefabricated housing for an Israeli firm that sells them to the Israeli army and Jewish settlements on the West Bank.

"It's the same as here," he shrugged as the car sped out of the West Bank across the now invisible line that used to separate it from pre-1967 Israel. "There's no difference."

Increasingly, as Israeli occupation becomes a permanent feature of life on the West Bank, Mohammed is right. The economic activity of the 2,200 square miles captured from Jordan in the 1967 Middle East war is moving swiftly toward integration with Israel proper.

The drawing together of what were once separate, even hostile, economies fits into an Israeli determination to retain overall control of the occupied territory. The reasons for this determination center on security concerns and ancient Jewish attachment to the land. But at the same time, occupation of the West Bank provides Israel with a number of economic advantages, including Mohammed's hour-long drive to work in the Israeli economy.

More than 75,000 workers -- abut 35 percent of the West Bank's work force of 217,000 -- make similar commutes six days a week, providing the labor-hungry Israeli economy with a cheap, unskilled manpower pool.

As a result, 6 percent of the Israeli labor force comes from the West Bank, including 30 percent of the workers in the construction industry.

Buses carrying the laborers to work can be seen lumbering through refugee camps and Palestinian towns across the West Bank in the early morning and returning in the evening to disgorge their kaffyeh-draped passengers.

The reluctance to work for what most Palestinians regard as an occupying foreign power -- and, for Mohammed, to build equipment for the very Army that enforces the occupation -- fades before the imperatives of making a living.

"What can we do, eat this earth?" asked Hassan Ahmed, 55, a driller working for the Israeli construction company building a new Jewish town at Maaleh Adumim on the road to Jericho, east of Jerusalem.

Israel has taken all the land," he added, gesturing toward the bulldozer scraping out places for Jewish apartment houses. "It is taking it all. What can we do? King Hussein [of Jordan] gives us no money. The Arab states give us no money. We have to eat."

Mohammed, whose real name has been changed because of his guerrilla past, takes home about $7.30 for a day that begins when he pulls out of Galzoun Refugee Camp here in a white station wagon owned by a fellow worker about 5:45 a.m. and ends when he drives back into the maze of shacks about 10 hours later. About a dollar in addition to that is withheld for Israeli health insurance and taxes.

Most of the money he brings to Galzoun returns quickly to the Israeli economy, because most of what the 22-year-old Mohammed needs he buys from Israel. According to reliable estimates, the West Bank gets 90 percent of its imports from Israel, accounting along with occupied Gaza for one-fourth the Israeli economy's total exports.

The abundance of Israeli goods is visible throughout the West Bank's towns and villages.

At Maswadi's little grocery shop at Bab Baladieh in Hebron's Souk, the Arab marketplace, for example, even the traditional Arab hummos, or chickpea paste, comes from an Israeli factory in Halfa. In the Souk's stationery shops, Palestinian schoolchidlren buy Arabic calligraphy copybooks shipped from Tel Aviv, and a little boy hawking bath sponges in a narrow alley cries out the price in Israeli pounds.

Even Mayor Elias Freij of Bethlehem, a moderate but determined Palestinian nationalist, serves Israeli instant coffee to visitors in his town hall office instead of the Arabs' traditional brew.

The coming together with Israeli's economy has brought unprecedented prospertiy to the West Bank and the military government here has introduced sharp improvements to such facilities as roads, telephones and electric power.

International organizations estimate that the area's gross national product, combined with that of Gaza, has grown by about 10 percent a year during Israeli occupation, rising to about a billion dollars, or $800 per capital.

The increases in prosperity, however, have roughly paralleled integration into the Israeli economic stream, exacting some high economic and social tribute in addition to the political cost of life under occupation.

Investment in agriculture and industry, for example has dried to nearly nothing, mortgaging the area's future ability to function outside the Israeli economic sphere. The only form of investment that is booming on the West Bank is house construction, much of it intended to make Israeli seizure of Palestinian-owned land more difficult.

The Israeli government announced plans Dec. 31 to expropriate the last large Palestinian-owned business in the area the Jerusalem Electricity Co., which employs about 400 Palestinians and serves 60,000 households, including 15,000 Jewish families in formerly Arab East Jerusalem.

In doing so, Prime Minister Menachem Begin's government cited what it said were the Arab-owned firm's financial problems and lack of reliability. iThe company president, Anwar Nusseibeh, contends, however, that the real reason for the seizure attempt is to guarantee Israeli control over the source of electricity for East Jerusalem and a swath of the West Bank -- including some Jewish settlements hooked onto the Arab company's grid.

"As we saw it, it was politically motivated," he said in an interview. "It was directed against our means of subsistence in Jerusalem and the West Bank, and at taking our rights."

Nusseibeh has appealed the takeover to the Israeli Supreme Court, where a hearing is scheduled later this month. He also is preparing a separate appeal to the International Court of Justice at The Hague in case, as he suspects, the Israeli court upholds the government.

"If it were a legal issue, I would say we would surely win," he said. "But it is not a legal issue: it is a political issue."

The lack of West Bank investment has produced a severe shortage of jobs for skilled or educated Palestinians. Combined with the lure of high salaries in Persian Gulf oil countries, this has swiftly accelerated emigration.

As a result, the number of skilled or educated Palestinians leaving the West Bank -- estimated at about 12,000 a year -- recently surpassed the number of those entering the job market, producing a net drain of human resources.

One of those on his way this year is Nabil Tamim, who graduated in June from Bir Zelt University near Ramallah with a bachelor's degree in economics and is settling out for Amman, Jordan, and perhaps the Persian Gulf in search of work.

"What can a man do?" he asked visitors to his home in Jenin, in the northern West Bank. "If things don't get better I will just stay in Amman."

The only West Bank job Tamim could find was in a Nablus insurance company at $160 a month. In Amman, he has hopes of a bank job starting at more than $800 a month and prospects are even higher in the Gulf.

Because of similar disparities, six of the 11 other men who graduated in economics at Bir Zelt this June also are leaving the West Bank. One has not yet decided what to do and two are continuing their studies. Only three have found jobs on the West Bank -- one at the Nablus insurance company whose salary Tamim found too low.

The money sent back by skilled and educated workers like those on their way from Bir Zelt this year contributes to the West Bank's prosperity, funding the construction of many houses and paying for the consumer goods that Palestinians often could not afford before the occupation.

Rafih Tawil, the mother of a member of this year's class who traveled to Amman two weeks ago, find, however, that prosperity also has its price.

"Money, money," she cried, putting her hand to her head. "Money comes and goes. We can always eat. What good is money and success if they separate me from my son?"