For months, plainclothes Palestinian policemen have patrolled
the crowded streets of the West Bank town of Hebron. But soon they
will don the blue uniforms and eagle-bedecked patches of the
Palestinian Authority's finest.
Israel is set to hand over control of most of this town to the
Palestinians. And like the switch from civilian clothes to official
attire, many of the coming changes will be largely symbolic.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Yasser
Arafat initialed the Hebron redeployment agreement early yesterday.
And Israeli officials say the pullout of Israeli troops will take
place as soon as the deal passes in the Knesset, the Israeli
Netanyahu is sure to win a parliamentary majority for the
agreement to implement key parts of the peace accords, even if he
is unable to muster one out of his right-wing Cabinet. The deal is
set to be formally signed tomorrow.
For Hebron's 140,000 Palestinians and 500 Jews, life may
actually change very little, as the Palestinian Authority (PA) is
already acting as a quasi-government in Hebron, and Israeli
soldiers are now stationed predominantly in the places they are
slated to remain to protect settlers.
But as the possibility of violence looms over the imminent
redeployment, Israeli and Palestinian security agents are making
joint efforts to prevent extremist opponents of the deal from
derailing the transfer of power.
Some 400 Palestinian police are waiting in villages near Hebron.
Palestinian Brig. Gen. Tariq Zeid says he can get his people into
position in a few hours. Additional troops may be brought in from
other parts of the West Bank and Gaza. "After we redeploy, we will
confiscate weapons that are a danger to the agreement," General
Zeid says, referring to arms caches reportedly held by Islamic
Outside of the Israeli military presence, the occupation of
everyday life for Palestinians here is already effectively over.
Many municipal departments once controlled by the Israeli civil
administration - such as water, health, agriculture, labor and
education - have already been transferred to the Palestinians.
Palestinian legislative council members from Hebron already
represent residents. Political offices display Palestinian flags,
and the mayor's office bears a portrait of the PA leader, Mr.
"These are the aspects that touch the everyday lives of the
Palestinians," says Second Lt. Peter Lerner, an Israeli Civil
Administration spokesman. "The only real difference is for the
Palestinian police to be there. The problems are places where there
is lots of contact between Palestinians and Israelis. It's going to
be a very long and hard test."
Indeed, there will be no hard border or wall between the two
areas, since some Palestinians live in the region to remain under
Israeli control, and both Jews and Muslims will be able to pray at
their shared holy site - the Tomb of the Patriarchs, where Abraham
is supposed to be buried.
Life on the line
In this area of town that is regularly a site of friction, no
one seems to be able to envision a social detente.
Najati Sultan, whose refrigerator repair shop is on the dividing
line, says business is already bad because other Palestinians would
rather avoid this neighborhood.
"If the settlers push us to trouble, believe me, we know how to
answer them," says Mr. …