Facing the Palestinian reality

THE United Nations speech of Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres is useful in redirecting attention to the need to achieve peace in the Middle East, after the recent focus on violence and reprisal. But while conciliatory in tone, it does not appear to go far enough to make negotiations feasible. Last month, before the UN Assembly, King Hussein stated that he and the Palestinians were ``prepared to negotiate under appropriate auspices with the government of Israel, promptly and directly, under the basic tenets of Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338.'' Mr. Peres did modify Israeli opposition to some form of UN auspices in support of direct negotiations, such as by the permanent members of the Security Council which have diplomatic relations with Israel (i.e., excluding the Soviet Union and C hina). But unresolved is the key issue of representing the Palestinians on the West Bank and in Gaza in the negotiations.

Ever since King Hussein got Yasser Arafat in February to agree to a joint delegation for negotiations on the basis of all applicable UN resolutions, the Israelis have rejected participation by anyone associated with the PLO. Peres seemed to maintain that position without mentioning the PLO. He called on the Palestinians to put an end to belligerency and recognize the reality of Israel, and he blamed PLO terrorism for bringing tragedy on them. While he called on them to talk, he insisted that any negotia tion must be between states -- Israel and Jordan -- and referred to the ``Palestinian issue'' or ``problem'' only in relation to Jordan. The Jordanian delegation might include Palestinians, but only ``delegates that represent peace, not terror.'' Conceivably someone linked to the PLO could qualify by forswearing future terror, but it seems intended to exclude anyone with PLO ties. If so, it could be the fatal obstacle to negotiations.

The Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza undoubtedly identify with Mr. Arafat and his Fatah part of the fragmented PLO and view him as their spokesman. Under the occupations, they have felt impotent as Israel took over half the land and eventually settled more than 40,000 Israelis, first in the name of security, and then after 1977, under Menachem Begin and Likud, claiming all the occupied territory by virtue of Biblical title and vigorously subsidizing settlements to make the takeover irrev ersible.

Under tight military government the Palestinians have been repressed and bullied both by it and the Israeli settlers, creating what Israeli critics have called a kind of apartheid. Israel has actively prevented the rise of local leaders, removing the Palestinian mayors from most of the larger towns.

During these years, the PLO was seen by the Palestinians as their only defender. For them its ``terrorism'' was the only means to try to counter Israel's absorption of their homeland. Israel retaliated harshly, including collective reprisals, bulldozing houses of suspects and their families, detention, and exile. This has nurtured Palestinian nationalism and hatred of the Israelis, especially among the youth, so that now more than half the killings of Israeli settlers and the military are by individual West Bankers. Any West Banker with any standing identifies with Arafat's PLO.

For his own protection, King Hussein must insist on participation in any negotiations of Palestinians acceptable to Arafat's PLO. Any settlement will involve compromises and concessions regarding territory, neutralization, and other safeguards. They will be accepted as legitimate by the Palestinians only if approved by representatives who are not seen as puppets or quislings. If excluded, the PLO will have every reason to attack any concessions and undermine a settlement based on them.

Thus Israel's interest in a stable peace should lead it to demand PLO participation, however distasteful. Negotiations with Jordan and handpicked Palestinians may appear easier, but they cannot yield an enduring settlement. Arafat and his PLO can be committed to accepting Israel and forswearing violence only by taking part in a settlement based on exchanging occupied territories for peace, as UN Resolution 242 contemplates, not by exclusion.

This conclusion has been strongly supported by responsible Israelis and by staunch supporters of Israel. Thus it was forcefully presented by Meir Mershav, of the Jerusalem Post, earlier this year. His analysis was fully endorsed by Philip Klutznick, past president of B'nai B'rith and the World Jewish Congress. Indeed, in July 1982 Mr. Klutznick joined with Dr. Nahum Goldmann, former president of both the World Zionist Organization and the World Jewish Congress, and Pierre Mendes-France, former French pr ime minister, in calling for ``negotiations with the PLO leading to a political settlement . . . with the aim of achieving co-existence between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples based on self-determination.'' The credentials of these men cannot be impeached. Their realist view is summed up: ``If we want peace, with whom shall we make it if not with our mortal enemies?''

Clearly the present Israeli coalition government could not negotiate any settlement based on UN 242. The Likud half of the coalition is dedicated to a Greater Israel absorbing the occupied territories. Indeed, it is remarkable that Peres has been able to go as far as he has. Some Likud leaders are already protesting his speech. Any move to start serious negotiations would surely bring down the government and force new elections. Many experts are convinced that Labor could win if the electorate could be convinced that genuine peace was within grasp, even though it entailed withdrawing from most of the occupied territories. But that in turn will depend on the conduct of Arafat and the PLO.

The odds on putting together a viable solution look extremely long, but the stakes are very high and the time is short. If the Hussein-Arafat-Mubarak initiative is frustrated, and the Likud leaders take over next year in Israel, the future is grim indeed. Israel (in the words of an Israeli) will be on the way ``to become a binational state, or, worse still, an apartheid regime.'' The Palestinians will be more and more radicalized. Terror and reprisals will grow more violent. And instability in the regio n will jeopardize US interests and its relations with its friends and allies.

Robert R. Bowie has been concerned with foreign affairs for nearly 40 years on the Harvard faculty, in government posts, and as a consultant.

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