By John Tyler, with Muhammad Bilas
Two years after "Gaza first" comes "Jenin first." Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin staged a public relations coup [in mid-February] when he offered to immediately transfer authority in Jenin to the Palestinian National Authority.
President Yasser Arafat has been forced into the difficult position of refusing the transfer, since Rabin did not include redeployment of the Israeli army as part of the deal, nor a strict timetable for transfer of any other areas in the West Bank.
PNA minister of justice Freih Abu Middein said that Palestinians would not refuse to assume real responsibility for Jenin.
"We have no objection to taking over in Jenin, on condition that it is followed by Qalqiliya and Nablus." He said the Palestinians turned down the Jenin proposal because Israel refused to adhere to a strict timetable and would not allow Palestinian police to assume control of the town.
Speaking from Paris, Arafat said on French TV on February 19 that he would accept the Jenin first plan only if it was linked to a comprehensive plan for Israeli troop redeployment.
Abdullah Lahlouh, mayor of Jenin since 1975, called Rabin's suggestion a waste of time. "We already control 99% of the economic life in Jenin", he said. "What we really need is for the Israeli army to redeploy out of the city so we can hold elections."
Imad Sayes, a barber in Jenin, pointed to Israel's desire to retain responsibility for security in the city. "The most important thing for us is stability and security", he said. "All the talks will be useless if our police do not enter Jenin."
An unemployed worker, Hisham Abu Hejah, asked what autonomy would mean if Israeli soldiers are still in the city annoying and harassing people.
Jenin Fateh activist Qadura Musa, the head of the Fateh National Institution's public relations office, said the Israeli civil administrator responsible for Jenin summoned him to discuss the Jenin first project. Musa told him, "We agree with the Jenin first project on one condition: redeployment, on a firm timetable that Israel should respect".
A poll conducted by the Bethlehem-based Centre for Palestinian Public Opinion February 18-19 indicated 52% of Palestinians in Jenin believe the Jenin first proposal is an attempt to circumvent the Oslo Agreement.
Responding to the question, "Are you for or against Rabin's suggestion regarding the takeover of Jenin's economic and municipal powers by the PNA without the presence of Palestinian police?", 47% said they oppose the suggestion, 35% approved it and 18% preferred not to comment.
[From the Jerusalem Times.]