Palestinian key to Mideast security -- an Israeli view
President Carter acted none too soon in inviting prime Minister Begin and President Sadat to Washington again. Recent events in the Middle East had seemed to eclipse the urgency of the search for a solution to the Palestinian problem.Skip to next paragraph
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That search was due to begin after the summit at Camp David but never got underway because of basic differences between Egypt and Israel as to the nature of the solution to be sought. Both parties to the peace talks therefore preferred to delay the confrontation they knew lay ahead of them, when the concept of Palestinian autonomy as formulated in the Camp David accords was to be discussed in earnest.
All along it had been known that Mr. Begin, whose original proposal for Palestinian autonomy was rejected at Camp David, would attempt to read into the accords the very concept he proposed originally. According to this concept, autonomy is a status allowing a non-national minority the right to assert its cultural or ethnic uniqueness in a way which is totally devoid of any political significance. It follows that according to his plan the inhabitants of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip would be treated as a group of individuals entitled to Arabic education, under Israeli supervision, and to a degree of administrative autonomy in running municipal affairs so long as no Israeli interests were involved.
The source of powers allowed to the "administrative council" to be set up under this plan would be the military government as at present defined. This would ensure that, for the duration of the five-year transition period provided by the Camp David accords, the Palestinian population in the occupied territories would have no way of preparing for anything other than becoming the inhabitants of Israel, once the final status of these territories was to be decided.
By contrast, the Egyptian concept, which derives from the Camp David formula, is that autonomy is an interim phase leading to the exercise of the right of self-determination, which is undoubtedly one of the "legitimate rights" of the Palestinian people recognized at Camp David. No amount of verbal acrobatics can bridge the gap between these two mutually exclusive concepts of autonomy.
When the timetable for the implementation of the Camp David accords was determined, President Carter certainly was aware that the Palestinian problem would face him in this manner in the year he would be campaigning for re-election. It would be too unkind to him to assume that he had not realized all along that he would have to support the Egyptian position on this issue rather than the Israeli one. But he could not possibly have foreseen the Iranian and Afghan crises which he now faces and which put the autonomy problem in a context so completely different from the one expected.
The Arab reaction to the historical initiative of Sadat was completely negative. As this opposition crystallized, it became clear that the most objectionalbe element in Sadat's new policy towards Israel, as seen by most of the Arab governments, was not the willingness to make peace with Israel. Rather it was the indication the Arabs believed they could discern of Sadat attempting to make a separate peace with Israel, letting the other Arab parties to the conflict fend for themselves as best they could.