ISRAELI SOLDIERS shot some more Arab kids yesterday. It is a familiar spectacle--and could become even more so as a consequence of the policy of the Begin government. That policy is aimed at expanding the Jewish presence on the West Bank and sliding over eventually to annexation. This entails shrinking the Arab presence and creating conditions to induce members of the Arab majority to abandon their homes. Often residents resist the administrative and police measures the Israelis use to displace them. Thus challenged by the rage they have stirred, the Israelis--paramilitary settlers or soldiers of the occupation force--open fire.
At one point, the Camp David Accords seemed to be the answer. They invited Palestinians to help set up a transitional "autonomy" and then join in talks to fix the sovereignty of the occupied territories. Unfortunately, the Palestinians refused to take a chance on Camp David. Menachem Begin took full advantage of this lapse. He has since taken steps to resolve the future of the West Bank his way. That means shoving out those Arabs who will go, offering special favors to some who stay and treating the others as a subject population.
In these conditions, it becomes difficult for those of us who have argued that Camp David was the only diplomatic vehicle moving to insist that the parties stay aboard. Egypt will doubtless be reviewing its participation after it gets back the last slice of Sinai next month. This cannot fail to make the United States review its policy, which currently is to uphold Camp David, but to do nothing to make the process work and meanwhile to get people to focus on Soviets rather than Palestinians.
We are long on record as favoring a Palestinian priority, but the case for it is not open and shut. As damaging to the Palestinians as Israeli policies have been, they have not been so damaging as the Palestinians' own refusal to do what Elias Freij, mayor of occupied Bethlehem, recently proposed. "We Palestinians should challenge Israel for peace and not for war," he wrote in this newspaper. "We would gain immensely if we were to say we would recognize the right of Israel to exist as a sovereign and independent state within defined and internationally recognized borders on a reciprocal, mutual and simultaneous basis."
The Freij suggestion does not exhaust the possibilities of policy, least of all American policy. It does, however, put one of the burdens exactly where it should be. Acting on it would remove the principal obstacle that keeps the United States from openly supporting the legitimate part of the Palestinian cause--that is, building a state.