A Decision Fit for Solomon
ISRAEL cannot forge a peace in the Middle East based on trust.
Although Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yassir Arafat has notably moderated his language in the last few months, his movement has yet to overcome its words and deeds that reject peace. Its leaders continue to make statements that half conceal a determination to strike at the security of Israel. There can be no trust.
Arafat's new tone is indeed remarkable. His achievement thus far--meeting America's conditions for negotiation--was a crucial first step toward settlement. Nevertheless, America set those preconditions so it could deal with the PLO; this was not a pledge to accommodate the PLO. A number of key issues justify skepticism in the PLO before anyone can embrace its proposal to comandeer a Palestinian state.
ARAFAT has never explicitly recognized Israel. His words dance around the United Nations resolutions that include recognition of Israel. Take, for example his Geneva proposal for "a comprehensive settlement...including the state of Palestine, Israel and other neighbors, within the framework of the international conference for peace in the Middle East on the basis of Resolutions 242 and 338 and so as to guarantee equality...and respect the right to exist in peace and security for all."
Asked at a news conference--yes or no--whether he had just recognized Israel, Arafat dismissed the query by saying, "Didn't you read my statement? Read it. It's clear."
Unless Arafat explicitly recogizes Israel, he can always turn around and say that he never did, when it suits his cause, say, after a Palestian state has been achieved.
If "it's clear" that Arafat recognizes Israel, then why won't he say it? There are several reasons: one, he doesn't mean it; two, he wants to leave open the possibility to change what he means; three, he fears a violent reaction from his Palestinian opposition. All three reasons are plausible. Israel should not be expected to cede one-third of its territory--located a dozen miles from its most populous areas--on the basis of such unclear promises.
ARAFAT'S refusal to clearly recognize Israel makes sense in light of his (and his organization's) past statements. They all indicate what Tel Aviv analyst Asher Susser calls a "strategy of phases," in which the Palestinian liberation movement aims to take control of Israel bit by bit.
In 1980, the PLO representative in Saudi Arabia said, "On no account will the Palestinians accept part of Palestine and call it the Palestinian state, while forfeiting the remaining areas which are called the State of Israel." Arafat keyed in, "The victory march will continue until the Palestinian flag flies in Jerusalem and all of Palestine--from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea." In another speech, Arafat proclaimed, "We shall not rest until the day when we return to our home, and until we destroy Israel."
In 1983 the message was the same. "Our rights extend beyond the West Bank and Gaza," said the head of the PLO political section.
That the Palestinians will accept a state only as a stage toward the eventual control of Israel has been confirmed by PLO statements made after Arafat's recent initiatives. Arafat's deputy, Saleh' Khalef, recently told a Kuwaiti newspaper, "the establishment of a Palestininan state in any part of Palestine has as its goal the establishment of a Palestinian state in all of Palestine." The chairman of the Palestinian National Council, Sheikh Abdul Hanid el Haya, agreed, "We should take and then demand more."
An Israeli cartoon commercial in this year's elections showed a Pac Man character chomping away at the occupied territories, then continuing to gobble the entire land of Israel. These fears are exaggerated, but unfortunately all too fitting with the Palestinian rhetoric.
HISTORY provides another key indication that Palestinian desire for a state reaches beyond the occupied territories. If not for the intransigence of the Arabs in the past 41 years, the question of a Palestinian state would be moot. There would be one.
In 1948 Israel accepted a U.N. plan to partition Palestine, which would make an Arab state out of a much larger area than is now encompassed by the occupied territories. The Palestinians fought the partition; according to U.N. Secretary General Trygve Lie, "the Arabs repeatedly had asserted that they would resist partition by force." A Palestinian spokesperson called the partition "a line of fire and blood."
The West Bank and Gaza were under Arab control from 1948 until 1967; still no Palestinian state was demanded or created. When Palestinian leaders called for liberating Palestine (the PLO was founded in 1964 doing just that), they were talking about eradicating the entire state of Israel.
In 1967, with Egypt cutting off a key Israeli port and massing troops along Israel's southern border, Syria shelling the northern border and both nations calling for war, Israel fought back. Israel won the West Bank and Gaza in that war and at the time indicated that it was eager to negotiate a peace settlement to give them back. The Arab leaders meeting at the time refused, charging "no peace with Israel, no negotiations with Israel."
Since the Six-Day war, Arab efforts have been focused on regaining the territories. Arafat's current efforts seem to indicate that a state would be enough to settle the question of peace in the region. Still Palestinian rhetoric confirms that the territories are a mere step toward the underlying goal--the entire state of Israel.
THE PLO's covenant and its record of terror are key stumbling blocks to believing that Arafat is committed to a peaceful settlement. The convenant is incompatible with the creation of a separate Palestinian state in the occupied territories, since it says, "Palestine with its boundaries that existed at the time of the British Mandate is an indivisible territorial unit." The covenant asserts "armed struggle is the only way to liberate Palestine."
If Arafat is to be believed, the covenant must be renounced.
The PLO has always been and continues as a terrorist organization. From the PLO's 1964 inception until Israel attempted to pushed it out of Lebanon in 1982, PLO terrorist attacks have killed 689 Israelis and wounded 3799. Civilians have been targeted in incidents such as the massacre of Israeli athletes in the 1972 Munich Olympics. The PLO has financed and trained international terrorists, from the Japanese Red Army to Nicaraguan Sandinistas to Idi Amin's Ugandan henchmen. Arafat's recent overtures cannot camoflauge the blood on his hands.
Although Arafat has "renounced" terrorism, he holds fast to his support for violence. When Bethlehem mayor Elias Freij proposed a truce in the intifadah to provide an opportunity for negotiation, Arafat countered with this threat: "Any Palestinian who proposes an end to the intifadah exposes himself to the bullets of his own people and endangers his life. The PLO will know how to deal with him." So much for words of peace.
ARAFAT is currently courting the backing of Western powers for his message, but support for him within the Palestinian camp remains unclear. Key Palestinian factions have indicated their disapproval for Arafat's initiative. A joint statement by the heads of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, George Habash, and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Naif Hawatmeh, "Arafat's Geneva statements do not commit the PLO to anything and they do not represent official policy." Arafat's statements also "contradicted the resolutions adopted by the PNC [the Palestine National Council]."
Terrorist incursions into Israel from Lebanon and Syria have increased since Arafat's declaration, as dissidents indicate their opposition.
CLEARLY, Israel cannot trust the other side. But there can be no question that Israel must make peace with it.
A war is being waged in the territories, away from the centers of Israel's population, yet the principles behind the bullets and stones cut at the very existence of the state. The army's "get tough" policy strikes at Israel's grounding in religious values and commitment to peace. Throughout history, Jews strove not just to survive, but to survive without sacrificing principle.
Now Israeli soldiers are killing teenagers. More than 300 Palestinians have died so far. Arabs hurl stones, burn tires and toss homemade bombs. Jews beat, arrest and shoot.
The Israeli Defence Force has been turned into a police force. Many army generals support the concept of Palestinian self-rule, because they are intimately aware of what policing the territories is doing to their troops. When the prime minister visited forces on duty in the West Bank earlier this month, a paratrooper told him, "I have to act brutally toward people free of crime, too. I feel humiliated by this behavior."
Palestinian schools in the territories were closed indefinitely last week. Residents who depend on jobs in Israel and shopkeepers strike for the intifadah. Palestinian anger and frustration justifiably grows.
Last month a life-and-death moral crisis in Jerusalem showed the dehumanizing gulf that has formed between the two sides. An elderly Arab man lay dying from an Israeli bullet. In a hospital across town, an elderly Jewish man lay dying for lack of a functional heart. A transplant could have saved his life. The Jewish family asked, the Arab family refused. Both men died.
A Palestinian state would not solve many key problems, such as discrimination against Palestinians in Israel proper. And it may place Israel's security in a more precarious position depending on how the following issues are resolved: Would the Palestinian state have an army? Which side would get Jerusalem? Would a corridor of a Palestinian state be created to link the Gaza Strip to the West Bank, as Arafat demands?
As the mayor of Bethlehem said in his pre-Christmas truce proposal, "Jews and Arabs are destined to live in this country together forever. Let's follow the wisdom of Solomon the Great. Israel is to have its part and the Palestinians to have their part of the Holyland."
It is unlikely that a new state will improve Palestinian-Israeli relations and, based on most rhetoric of the Palestinian liberation movement, it would probably endanger them. But there is no alternative.