Realism and the Palestinians

GOADED by the uprising and repression in the West Bank and Gaza, Secretary of State George Shultz is back in the Middle East. Will he seek a palliative or a real solution? Lasting peace must recognize the reality of a Palestinian nation as well as Israel, and be based on their mutual acceptance of each other. That presupposes Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza in return for secure peace, as UN Resolution 242 prescribes.

Such an outcome faces daunting obstacles. Prospects depend greatly on how three of them are handled.

The Israeli government, now headed by Yitzhak Shamir and his Likud party, adamantly rejects giving up any of the occupied territories. Mr. Shultz seeks to sidestep this roadblock by reviving the Camp David scheme for negotiating Palestinian autonomy (for a shorter period), with the status of the territories left until later. But Menachem Begin sabotaged and discredited this approach in 1980. Now the Arabs reject it as an evasion while the issue of withdrawal is in doubt.

Mr. Shamir and Likud will not change their position without intense United States pressure such as Eisenhower applied in 1957. That is unlikely. Thus the best hope for a change is to make the Israeli elections this fall a referendum on the choice between (1) the chance for a stable peace based on Palestinian self-determination and safeguards for Israeli security, or (2) the grim consequences of trying to hold on to the occupied territories. Meanwhile Palestinian elections, removing some restrictions, and a clear US commitment to Palestinian self-determination might mitigate the violence.

Israel (and the US) will have to negotiate with representatives of the Palestinians chosen by them. An Israeli veto or efforts to make Jordan the spokesman are self-defeating. The Palestinians of the occupied territories are clearly taking a more direct role in their fate; but they still consider the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) their representative. The US should end its ban on talking to the PLO. The Fatah PLO has essentially said it would negotiate peace with Israel based on UN 242 on condition that Israel recognize the Palestinian right to self-determination. That is all that can legitimately be expected. PLO participation is indeed desirable to legitimize whatever compromises are made in a settlement.

The US should be working directly with potential leaders in the occupied territories and with the PLO to get them to make as specific and concrete as they can the possibility of a lasting peace based on mutual recognition, UN 242, and safeguards. Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia appear ready to support such a solution, which also serves their interests in stability. And perhaps Syria can be brought along with help from the Soviets.

US pressure is critical. The US is deeply distrusted by the Arabs as a captive ally of Israel: its $3 billion each year in arms and aid and political support have made possible the assertive Israeli role in the region. But the Arabs realize that only the US has the leverage to influence Israel; they doubt it has the political will or balance to use it to achieve a just peace. Yet US interests call for a peaceful solution. Indefinite Israeli repression of the Palestinians will seriously jeopardize stability in the region; it will foster Muslim radicalism and alienate and threaten Arab states whose friendship and stability are important to US interests.

And as a friend of Israel, the US should be using its influence to promote such a settlement. As one group of US Jewish supporters of Israel has said: Retaining the occupied territories ``promises only continuing violence, destruction, and tragedy for both peoples - Palestinians and Jews.'' Inevitably, despite the Israeli lobby, such a regime of repression would undermine the public sympathy for Israel, which is the basis for the huge US subsidy and its political support. Without US backing, an Israel repressing 1.5 million Palestinians would be a lonely and vulnerable pariah. That is a reality which the US administration, responsible members of Congress, and American Jews should be stressing to Israeli citizens and politicians.

At this point to hope for a constructive solution may seem utopian. Yet in the Jerusalem Post of February 13, Y. Harkabi, former head of Israeli military intelligence, writes: ``Reality will force Israel to retreat from her political stance, to withdraw from the territories, and to negotiate with the PLO.'' May it come soon rather than late.

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

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