In the immediate aftermath of the 1967 Middle East war, Israel had a unique opportunity to reach an historic accommodation with the Palestinian people. Security Council Resolution 242 pointed the way for a reasonable compromise; but the political creativity and courage was lacking in both Israel and the Arab world. And the Great Powers lacked the prescience and determination to pursue the comprehensive settlement they had helped to perfect.
Ever since 1967 Palestinian nationalism has increased its influence, partly feeding on Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Today, even with the Palestine Liberation Organization's military defeat in Lebanon, the struggle for Palestinian self-determination will continue and may even be heightened. If the political leadership of the Palestinian movement is destroyed in Beirut, this could have dangerous and unforeseen consequences throughout the Middle East.
It was the Arab scholar Najib Azuri who in 1905 first foresaw that Jewish and Arab nationalist revivals were destined to collide in Palestine. This continuing collision cannot be terminated until both nationalisms accept the legitimacy of the other and the need to reasonably accommodate each other.
With Israel's military action against the Palestinians and others in Lebanon and with its firm grasp on the West Bank, it may seem to some that Israel need no longer contemplate compromise, that Israel's power and American support entitle her to vanquish the Palestinians and defy the Arab world.
But if such a view were to prevail, my people may be sacrificing Israel's vital long-term interests to the sins of exhilaration in military victory - the kind of victory which often proves transient.
The price Israel and others have had to pay during the past weeks to create Israel's dominant geostrategic situation is truly tragic. For Prime Minister Begin to pronounce these as great days for Israel and for the Jewish people is at best premature and in bad taste considering the great loss of human life.
The only possible justification that can be offered for the misery and death that we have witnessed is that there be a fair offer from today's victor of a just peace between the two peoples who have struggled for so long but must somehow reach reconciliation and coexistence. If there ever was any doubt with whom Israel's is at war, it is now clear it is the Palestinians. If there is to be a peace they will have to make it together.
At this moment of Palestinian weakness, a moment psychologically comparable for them to 1948 and 1967, it is imperative that Jews face the simple truth that it can no longer be reasonably denied that the Palestinian people are entitled to self-determination. When asked in a September, 1980, Louis Harris poll if they felt that ''there must be a way to guarantee Israel's security and also give the Palestinians an independent state on the West Bank,'' 72 percent of the American people responded ''Yes'' and 59 percent of American Jews concurred. And when asked if they felt that ''the Palestinian people are now homeless and deserve their own independent state, just as much as the Jews deserved a homeland after World War II,'' 71 percent of the general public concurred and a near-majority of American Jews (49 percent) also approved (with 36 percent saying ''No'' and 15 percent undecided).
The basic issue today is not whether the Palestinians are entitled to their rights, but how to bring this about while ensuring Israel's security and maximizing regional stability. It is urgent that a process of mutual recognition between Israel and the Palestinian people begin so that serious negotiations can follow and the cycle of violence that has erupted again in Lebanon can be contained.
We must stop the futile, sterile debate whereby the Arab nations challenge the historical validity of Zionism and Jews challenge the political legitimacy of the Palestinian fight for independence. In both camps there are the kernels of mutual recognition between Jewish and Palestinian nationalisms.
Now is the crucial moment for that historic offer of peace coming from the Jewish people to the Palestinian people. Coexistence between Israel, the Palestinians, and Jordan based on mutual recognition of the right to self-determination remains the best possible way of steering Israel toward a secure future in the Arab Middle East. As reported nearly seven years ago in a Brookings Institution study, the urgently required comprehensive peace should have ''provision for Palestinian self-determination, subject to Palestinian acceptance of the sovereignty and integrity of Israel within agreed boundaries. This might take the form either of an independent Palestine state accepting the obligations and commitments of the peace agreements or of a Palestine entity voluntarily federated with Jordan but exercising extensive political autonomy.''
A peace imposed by the stronger party of the moment will be transient and breed its own undoing. A peace based on self-determination offers hope that Israel will finally be accepted by her Arab neighbors and hope that the human and national resources of the region can be rechanneled to bring prosperity and well-being to all the peoples of the area.