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Peace Plan Remains Flawed


By Radi M. Annab

The peace accord ignores the basic right of the Palestinians to their own state.

My mother stared at the television screen after the news about the secret Palestinian/Israeli negotiations in Oslo came out. She was looking at an image of Palestinian and Israeli flags hanging side-by-side. I looked at my mother. In her face I saw confusion. Although she was driven from Palestine to Jordan as a refugee many years ago, in 1948, it was still too soon for her to see the two flags together.

I began to think about all the young men and women who died fighting for Palestinian sovereignty, about the martyrs of the Intifada and the mourners left behind. How did they all feel about peace? "All this talk about peace looks good on paper," my mother told me. "I just hope it will not be a disappointment."

I am a 20-year-old Palestinian and yet I am very different from other 20-year-old Palestinians who have known only life under occupation. Of course, I hope that the violence and bloodshed will soon be over. But I ask myself how I would feel if I were a child of the Intifada or a father whose son or daughter was killed by a stray bullet. It will take more than a handshake to make the anger of my people subside.

Increasingly, however, it is becoming clear that the September signing of the Declaration of Principles between Israel and the PLO was, in effect, little more than a handshake, and that my mother's concerns over disappointment may have been quite valid. Exaggerated by the media as a historic breakthrough between two age-old enemies, the accord achieved thus far is actually only breakthrough for the Israelis. The Palestinians have little to be happy about.

Consider, for example, that the agreement was premised on Israel receiving recognition by the PLO as a legitimate state within its pre-1967 borders. Meanwhile, Israel did not in turn recognize Palestine as a state.

For Israel carrying out the accord also means substantial economic benefits, in the form of an end to the Arab economic boycott and the start of trade with Arab countries.

With so much to gain and with the support of the United States and most of the world, why would Israel ever feel the need to give an inch of land to the Palestinians beyond the tiny Gaza-Jericho areas already agreed upon? Indeed, it is my opinion that regardless of the Declaration of Principles, Israel has not and will not change its plans to keep building Jewish settlements or be in control of the Occupied Territories.

Palestinians, meanwhile, have much to lose as the agreement now stands. The basic problem revolves around statehood: the Palestinian people want a separate Palestinian state, but the Israelis have always claimed that there is no space for such a state between Israel and Jordan. In my opinion there will only be real peace if Israel compromises its position on statehood.

Yet the September agreement shows no movement in that direction. There is nothing in the Declaration that renounces Israel's claim to the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Nothing has been mentioned about halting settlement activity in the territories.

The agreement fails to mention any Israeli withdrawal beyond that of the interim period and therefore does not change the basic situation of the Palestinians. Most will still be living under occupation, but the soldiers will be on the borders rather than in the streets. Many Palestinians fear that nothing will change and that all the Gaza-Jericho plan has done is take away any bargaining power we once had.

Indeed, the accord actually undermines prospects for a Palestinian state by suggesting that the Palestinians have given up on any such hopes for independence. It tacitly accepts the existence of two individual entities in the occupied territories, thereby legitimizing Israel's claim to Palestinian land.

Palestinians should not be compelled to forfeit our basic rights to an independent nation. Palestinian autonomy should not under any circumstances become the final stage of the agreement and the PLO should make it clear that they have not abandoned the claim to an independent state. If the PLO can obtain from Israel a guarantee that the issue of statehood will remain open to negotiation, it might perhaps lessen opposition to the accord.

Still, simply talking about second-stage negotiations in which the issue of statehood will be discussed is not enough--there must be guarantees. For if a deadlock is reached at the end of the interim period, both the PLO and Israel will be faced with very frustrated and angry Palestinians in the territories.

Indeed, such an impasse seems likely in the long run, since Israel made sure that the contentious issue of Jerusalem's future would not enter into the current negotiations. The Israelis claim to have rights to the ancient city and it does not seem that they are ready to yield on this claim. But the Palestinians have claims to Jerusalem too, and it is our hope that the Holy City will one day be the capital of our state.

Moreover, if there is a deadlock in future agreements, the entire world will blame the PLO for stifling peace and no one will blame Israel for denying the Palestinians their national rights.

And the issue of statehood isn't the only problem with the accord. The Declaration of Principles does not mention the future of the Palestinian refugees and exiles in Jordan and Syria who have waited for years to return to their homes and land. It deliberately avoids the question of who will control the borders between the territories, Egypt and Jordan. It ignores the issue of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, and it limits the size of the area to be conceded by Israel to a space far too small for the creation of a stable state or economy.

For all these reasons, the accord is flawed. Meanwhile, Israel is pressuring Arafat to use force to stifle Palestinian opposition to the plan. Under such Israeli pressure, the Palestinians are being forced to accept a peace that undermines our sovereignty.

Yet if there is to be a true peace, it must be a just peace. What is important in the end is the establishment of a situation where there are no losers. Such a solution can only result if the negotiations are held between equals. Israel has the power to create this peace by acknowledging the right of the Palestinians to a state of their own.

When it comes down to it, peace involves more than written agreements--it involves people's emotions. The simple fact is that many people just aren't ready to make peace, and certainly not according to the outline now being negotiated. It isn't easy to put the past behind us and forget our original aspirations for a state, because so many young men and women have already died fighting for this cause.

Radi Annab '95 is president of the Society of Arab Students.

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