Land, Peace, Security

Palestinians--At the Table Despite the Risks. THE STATE OF ISRAEL'S presence in the Arab world has brought 43 years of hostile truce punctuated by war. This week, Israelis sit down in a Spanish palace to open a peace conference with their neighbors, on the basis of United Nations resolutions calling for the trade of Israeli-occupied land for assurances of peace and security. But all the participants come grudgingly to the table. Their demands seem mutually exclusive, and extremists on both sides decry t he conference. The prospects for moving beyond the first ceremonial phase of the meeting to face-to-face negotiations depend on whether Arabs and Israelis can reconcile conflicting territorial claims in the interest of a land-for-peace compromise. Monitor writers examine the significance of this issue to all the parties and the steps that have set the context for this conference.

THE Palestinians will arrive in Madrid in search of something they have failed to achieve in five decades of war and internal resistance - a Palestinian state on land Israel claims as its own.They will invoke a series of UN Security Council resolutions that address their national rights and call for an Israeli withdrawal from the territories occupied in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. But the Palestinians enter the talks in a position of weakness: There are no guarantees from the conference organizers - principally the United States - that the resolutions will be implemented, and Palestinians can count on only limited support from a fragmented Arab world and a collapsed Soviet Union. Unlike other delegations, the Palestinians will not be represented by their "government the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). In accord with US and Israeli demands, the Palestinians on the joint Jordanian-Palestinian team have no "clear cut" ties to the PLO, although the organization has been heavily involved in the process, and an advisory committee in Madrid will include PLO representation. But the rejection of an official PLO role on the delegation, Palestinians feel, undermines their claim to self-determination. They also feel they are risking a de facto annexation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip if the talks, which are expected to last for years, continue without a halt to the construction of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories. By the time the negotiators get down to discussions over the territories, they suggest, there may be little left to talk about. And there is also the risk that Arab parties may reach individual peace agreements with Israel without solving the Palestinian problem. For more than 30 years after the creation of Israel, the Palestinian objective was "to liberate Palestine" and return Palestinian refugees to the entire area. Israel saw these goals as a prescription for its destruction. The Palestine Liberation Organization began to consider confining its territorial claims to the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1974. But it only came to a full acceptance of that idea in 1988, when the PLO declared an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, although adhering to its demands for the repatriation and compensation of Palestinian refugees in accordance with UN resolutions. In the runup to the Madrid meeting, the US stopped short of supporting the idea of a Palestinian state. But a scenario presented by the US for the peace conference - along the lines of one devised during the Camp David peace process - calls for a transitional period of limited Palestinian autonomy before talks on a final settlement. The Israelis are afraid that autonomy could evolve into a state; Palestinians fear autonomy will be all that they get.

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