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Why Israel Should Rule

By Joel BainermanJoel Bainerman is Israel bureau chief for The Canadian Press, Canada's national press agency. / October 19, 1989

AS a journalist covering the Middle East conflict, I've heard over and over: This region, and the entire world no less, will never experience peace until the Palestinians have their own independent state. I've heard it from politicians, Palestinian intellectuals, spokespersons, economists, entrepreneurs, refugee-camp dwellers, and, last but not least, my fellow journalists. They're wrong. If this weren't the Middle East and if Palestinian political norms were different, a Palestinian state might be a great idea. But this isn't Philadelphia, Yasser Arafat is not Thomas Jefferson, and a Palestinian state will thrust the region into decades of instability and bloodshed.

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I realize that to my colleagues the sound of ``Israel must allow the Palestinians to have their own state'' is soothing to their liberal consciences. ``It's only fair,'' they tell me. ``It's the just solution.''

But regardless of what they and Palestinian intellectuals feel about the PLO's commitment to democracy, there is no evidence to indicate that once in power, the PLO will share that power with other political parties or ``the people.'' There is not a single democracy in the Arab world, no commitment to it, no history or tradition of it. Strength in leadership is directly related to longevity. Intellectuals are these regime's greatest internal enemies. Even among Palestinians in East Jerusalem, a 1986 poll in the daily paper ``Al-Fajr'' indicated that only 36 percent of the respondents chose democracy over autocratic rule or an Islamic state.

Palestinian intellectuals and activists like Dr. Sari Nusseibeh and Feisal Husseini say that in a situation of real peace, there will be no need for a Palestinian army. They talk of a demilitarized state.

If the new entity were demilitarized, who would prevent an insurrection against the incumbent government (a not uncommon occurrence in the Arab world)? What would happen if a coup, assassination, or revolution were initiated by extremists opposed to the peace treaty with Israel, for the sake of ``liberating all of Palestine''? Would Israel be forced to defend the new Palestinian entity? To arm it? When Mr. Arafat is declared ``King of Palestine,'' will Nayif Hawatmeh, Ahmed Jabril, and George Habash simply pack up their Kalachnikov rifles and go back to Jericho to raise red peppers and cucumbers?

Considering the recent performance in Lebanon, how long will it be before conflicting groups of Palestinians are killing each other? Considering the ``self cleansing'' by violent murder during the intifada, how long until uncontrolled armed groups make their bid for power? And if this violence is turned against Israel and/or Jordan, would Israel be forced to reenter the territories with the aim of policing them?

Even if the leadership of the new state truly desires stability and non-hostility with Israel, it might be forced into confrontation either to divert domestic discontent (another not so uncommon practice in the Arab world) or to satisfy irredentist sentiment.

With the freedom to garner arms and no security force to stop radicals, is there any way - given the history of Palestinian politics - that the struggle for power wouldn't become violent? A state the size of Delaware, of which 40 percent is desert and the rest a haven for any Arab terrorist organization with enough force to take it, is certainly no solution. The key must lie elsewhere.