'Sovereign Israel' freezes out Palestinians: The occupied territories face severe hardship after the latest clampdown, writes Sarah Helm in Jerusalem

IN THE past two weeks Israel has openly acknowledged that it cannot co-exist with its Palestinian neighbours and no longer wishes to try. The Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, has closed off the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, thereby redrawing the green line, the boundary between Israel and the lands it seized in the 1967 war.

Yesterday the government announced the closure would continue indefinitely, which means more than 90,000 Palestinian workers will continue to be barred from their jobs in Israel. Furthermore, 22,000 Palestinians who come to work in Arab east Jerusalem will barred from their employment because Mr Rabin has included east Jerusalem inside what he terms 'sovereign Israel'.

The Palestinians have been confined to three ghettos: the West Bank, east Jersualem and the Gaza Strip. The immediate implications of the measures are clear: financial hardship and a rise in tension in the occupied territories where Palestinians have no means to substitute the loss of income caused by the closure. Aid workers estimate emergency relief will be needed in another two weeks. However, for Israelis the closure has provided a temporary respite from the growing fear of Palestinian attacks inside the green line.

The long term implications are more confused. A redrawing of the green line may appear to bode well for Palestinian independence. De facto, Mr Rabin has, for security reasons, acknowledged borders of a Palestinian entity which he has so far refused to acknowledge politically.

However, while the closures show a strengthening of Israeli desire to be severed from Palestinian people, there is no evidence of a desire to be severed from the land. Mr Rabin cannot forget the 110,000 Jewish settlers who live across the green line. And the occupation continues, with Israeli soldiers and settlers moving around in the sealed-off areas.

Since the occupation began in 1967, successive Israeli governments have tried to blur or even destroy the green line. Labour, which ruled for the first 10 years, blurred the boundaries by allowing Jewish settlement in areas considered necessary for security. The Likud government, which came to power in 1977, extended this settlement for ideological reasons, hoping permanently to reclaim all the land of 'greater Israel', from the Jordan Valley to the sea. Boundaries were also blurred by the movement of people. Israel needed a cheap labour force and encouraged Palestinians to take lowly jobs creating dependency.

At the same time exports from the West Bank and Gaza through Jordan to the Arab world have been restricted by the Arab trade boycott of Israel. And imports are restricted by Israel's security needs: 90 per cent of Palestinian imports are therefore from Israel. As the closure shows, osmosis across the green line has done little to strengthen understanding or trust between Jew and Arab.

As frustration has built up inside the occupied territories attacks by Palestinians upon Israelis have increased. In Israel the view has strengthened that Palestinians are simply pollutants.

Mr Rabin now appears more and more sure that closure is the answer to his security problems. Whether he can maintain it is questionable, not least because of the effect on the Israeli economy of the loss of cheap labour. Palestinians argue that a solution cannot be built on fear or imposed unilaterally. 'If you want to construct an ageement that will last it has to be in the interest of both so it can take root and grow,' says Sari Nusseibeh, a leading advisor of the Palestinians peace team.

Mr Rabin's action has therefore leant weight to the Palestinian case for the interim stage of the peace negotiations to be abandoned and the final status of the lands discussed immediately. If severance is to happen, they say, it must be done immediately and completely. Israel is certain to reject such argument. But without some counter measures to ease the effect of the closure, the pressure will become explosive.

(Photograph omitted)

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