Palestinian State Could Be Another Lebanon

MUCH of the world is calling upon Israel to end its control over the occupied territories. Yet little if any related attention is directed toward the explosive growth and ambition of Islamic fundamentalism. As the Salman Rushdie affair reveals, Iran's current foreign policies are far-reaching and defy all the usual standards of civilized international behavior.

It follows that because Iran now sees itself as the appropriate guardian of Islamic revolution, that country's rulers would become deeply and violently involved in the certain competition to control an independent state of Palestine.

For now, the intifadah, the uprising in the territories held by Israel, has been conducted according to the secular expressions of Palestinian nationalism. But this is quietly changing, and a growing movement within the rebellion is already looking toward Tehran as well as the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) for guidance and direction. Even within Israel's pre-1967 borders, Islamic fundamentalists have already achieved victories in recent municipal elections. Seeking control over all Israeli Arab cities, the Islamic movement denies any legitimacy to the state of Israel.

Should the West Bank and Gaza become ``Palestine'' in the next few years, pro-Iranian groups such as the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution would certainly vie for power with Palestinian organizations.

In view of the electoral successes within Israel, these groups would surely make common cause with leaders of the movement inside the Jewish state. Over time, Palestine could become a proxy for Iran in the region and Israel could confront an unprecedented internal and external security threat.

Palestine, in brief, could become another Lebanon. In addition, Iranian surrogates, including the Hizbullah zealots now battling Syrian-backed Amal militiamen around Beirut and a number of violent groups loyal to Syria, Iraq, and Libya, would actively contend for power.

For example, Ahmed Jibril's Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command is tied to Damascus; the Arab Liberation Front and Palestine Liberation Front are linked to Baghdad; and the Fatah Revolutionary Council (the Abu Nidal group) has deep connections with Tripoli.

Many assume (incorrectly) that a state of Palestine would be governed by a monolithic organization drawn from the PLO, and that Israel need worry only about Yasser Arafat and his mainstream faction. Yet, within hours of the new state's effective beginnings, Arafat would be beleaguered by many adversaries, including Palestinian rejectionists, Syrian, Iraqi, and Libyan front organizations, and Khomeini-directed Islamic fundamentalists.

Viewed from Jerusalem, the resultant anarchy to the east would create a second ``hot border'' for the Jewish state. The problems of containing the violence outside its borders would be overwhelming - substantially greater than those currently associated with control of the intifadah.

It is also likely that the ``Lebanonization'' of Palestine would be followed by the ``Palestinization'' of Jordan. Whoever controls the new Arab state, the move to absorb the ``rest of Palestine'' would be prompt and, very probably, successful. King Hussein understands this threat to his Hashemite kingdom, which already has a Palestinian majority, but can do little about it.

The creation of Palestine would also enlarge the risk of general war against Israel. Several Arab states already are busily preparing for such a war. And their preparations, which include deployment of ballistic missiles, will not cease with a change of status for Palestinians. These preparations can be expected to accelerate should the territories become Palestine; such a transformation would appear to alter the military balance of power, making an Arab assault against Israel look cost-effective.

An important lesson of the Rushdie affair is that Islamic fundamentalists play for keeps, that they represent an especially dangerous and inflexible enemy. Understood in the context of Israel's disposition of the territories, this suggests that Palestine could be undermined by pro-Iran surrogates (among other regional contenders), and that it might even become an incentive for major war.

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