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PLO: breaking out of the `no-win, no-peace' impasse

By Daoud Kuttab / March 11, 1986



Jerusalem

THE decision by Jordan's King Hussein to break off political coordination with the Palestine Liberation Organization has once more ruined the latest peace process. While the subject is still fresh on people's minds, it would be appropriate to reflect on the reasons for its failure and what lies ahead. From the Palestinian perspective the failure of the latest attempt comes down to a simple point -- the compromise the PLO was asked to make was much bigger than the compromise either the United States or Israel was asked to make.

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For Palestinians the agreement signed on Feb. 11, 1985, between the PLO and Jordan represented a major compromise on Palestinian rights. In attempting to please the US, the PLO agreed on a consideration basis between the future states of Palestine and Jordan. This compromise, which was sharply attacked by Palestinian factions opposed to chairman Yasser Arafat as well as by a number of Arab countries, did not satisfy the Americans or Israelis. And instead of encouraging these elements in the Palestinian movement, more and more compromises were being asked of the PLO.

The final breakdown came when the United States government insisted that the PLO recognize UN Resolutions 242 and 338. These two resolutions, which were worked out to solve a border crisis, did not mention the Palestinians except in the matter of refugees. So for Palestinians these resolutions did not involve or recognize Palestinian national rights, foremost of which is the right of Palestinians to determine their own future.

For Palestinians the creation of the PLO and the wide recognition it has received stem from the fact that it is made up of Palestinians, represents Palestinians, and struggles for Palestinian rights. Had the PLO accepted these resolutions, they would have defeated their own purpose of existence. For this reason it was not possible for Mr. Arafat to recognize these resolutions, even if he wanted to. Had he done so, his existence as the head of the PLO would have been in trouble, since the people would then have agreed to allow the PLO to commit political suicide.

To overcome this obstacle, the PLO leader suggested a number of formulas, all of which would have neutralized, in Palestinian eyes, the negative point in Resolution 242. Arafat suggested that he would accept these resolutions if the US would publicly recognize the Palestinian people's right for self-determination. When the US refused, the PLO again suggested that it would recognize ``pertinent UN resolutions including Resolution 242 and 338.'' Again the formula was meant to guarantee the continual representation by the PLO of the Palestinian people.

But the failure of the US and Israel to respond positively to the Palestinians' peaceful overture obstructed the possibility that the peace process could continue. The US effort was seen only as a result of pressure from Congress to get direct talks going by February of this year so that it could approve the weapons sales to Jordan. Even during this period when the US was trying to appear in pursuit of the start of negotiations, it managed to veto a number of UN resolutions condemning Israel for provocation of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and for its air piracy.

Israel was not even interested in any peaceful negotiations. Labor leader Shimon Peres had problems with hawkish ministers from his own Labor Party, let alone the Likud half of the Israeli government. Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin's iron-fist policies were producing more repression in the occupied territories than under the Begin government. Deportation and administrative detentions have become the rule of the day. And instead of allowing moderate Palestinian leaders to emerge, the Israelis placed travel restrictions, rejected the idea of municipal elections, and tried to implement the autonomy plan.

With such a pessimistic outlook, where do we go from here? It is clear the Palestinian struggle for independence is long and difficult. But the event of the last few years calls for a serious reassessment. This reassessment would require as a top priority the unity of Palestinians. They would also have to redouble their efforts to find a way to overcome this present stalemate. The facts on the ground mean that the Palestinian leadership must encourage the Israeli public, Arab governments, and the international public to do something. For Palestinians in general and for those of us living under occupation, the continuation of the present ``no-war, no-peace'' situation is dangerous. We have to find a way to break out of the cycle before it is too late for us, for the Israelis, and for the world.

Daoud Kuttab is managing editor of the English-language Palestinian weekly Al Fajr, published in Jerusalem.