Keeping Israeli-PLO Agreement on Track
Both sides must `give' on settlements and Jerusalem
DEC. 13 was a crucial day in the politics of the Middle East. On that date the Palestine Liberation Organization and representatives of the State of Israel promised to implement their September peace accord. That they could not, only illustrates basic contradictions in the political culture of both groups.
Under successive Likud governments Israel had promoted an expansionist territorial policy that Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's Labor government suddenly expected to terminate. Under the PLO, revolution in the name of national liberation provided elan for Palestinians.
Now, suddenly, PLO chairman Yasser Arafat is seeking to transform Palestinians into policemen and civil servants. No wonder the date on which these transformations were to occur has been postponed.
If the accord is to succeed, the Palestinians must accept that their political freedom will be circumscribed. However free they might be in law, they will be dependent upon the good will of more powerful states around them, particularly Israel, Jordan, and even Syria. Israel will never allow a strong Arab military force along its spine, adjacent to its population centers. Nor will King Hussein allow a strong military force in an independent Palestine adjacent to his Hashemite state with its Palestinian majority.
The Israeli people must accept sharing the land, including Jerusalem, with a sovereign people over whom they have previously exercised military control. Israel must support Palestinian sovereignty by helping local leaders acquire and utilize resources that create sustained economic growth as quickly as possible. Tangible signs of the agreement's value must impress the territory's people very quickly.
It is not easy to be critical of this agreement and the hopes that go with it. However, given the political culture that has developed in Israel and within the PLO since 1967, one must in all fairness catalog obstacles that this agreement still faces.
The government of Israel, especially since the mid-1970s, has been committed to and promoted a philosophy of expansion. It has attracted many emigre Jewish zealots, especially from the United States, who believe that God has promised them a special spot in a ``Greater Israel.''
The PLO, as a semisecret political body, has thrived on revolutionary ideology. It has filled the Palestinian youth with visions of triumph over Zionism, and it has exerted a kind of moral blackmail against Arab regimes to support them. Now their ideology must somehow quickly disengage youthful emotions and vest authority in individuals who have borne the brunt of the Israeli occupation. The Palestinian leadership must persuade young people that the same moral force lies in meeting the demands of daily life as lay in the revolutionary shuffle.
Supporters of the accord hope that the process will take on a momentum of its own that will gradually enlarge Palestinian autonomy and ultimately lead to sovereignty as the Israeli public first accepts self-rule and as Palestinians learn to exercise it. It is also based on the hope that Mr. Arafat will gain the needed support and control within his own camp to deliver on promises made in the pact.
As currently embodied, the accord represents an imbalanced bargain brokered between two vastly unequal partners. The agreement begins by substituting de facto autonomy for sovereignty. It demonstrates the fatigue of 26 years of Israeli occupation. Its legalistic language, restrictions, and terms have been largely determined by the occupier, and it is viewed by many local Palestinians as an instrument of capitulation. Many also believe that the accord is an effort to permanently substitute autonomy for sovereignty.
IF the peace accord is to work a number of issues must be clearly confronted by both sides. First, the Jewish settlements in the occupied territories have been deliberate obstacles to peace. Palestinians view them as monuments of their defeat and helplessness. Israeli settlers who are willing to live under Palestinian sovereignty should be given the option of remaining in the territories. If they cannot, then the settlements in the occupied territories should be dismantled. The process must allow the Israeli government some latitude for dismantling them over a period of time. For Palestinians there must be signs of this happening.
Second, Jerusalem must become an ecumenical city, much as it was prior to 1948 before the creation of the state of Israel. No religious group should have ultimate authority over the holiest regions of Jerusalem; such authority must rest in a pluralistic council made up of delegates from a Palestinian state, Israel, and the United Nations. The organization of municipal services should be managed by a body that includes representatives of all of the residents of Jerusalem. It cannot be the capital of either Israel or Palestine.
Third, a future Palestinian state must be sovereign in its foreign as well as domestic affairs. For example, disagreements over who will control border crossings between Gaza and Egypt and between the West Bank and Jordan, currently the subject of secret talks in Paris, were among the immediate causes of the delay in the peace accord's implementation.
Fourth, Palestinians who have lived in Gaza and the West Bank and who have run the day-to-day affairs under occupation, should become the main governing authority, rather than PLO officials who have never lived in the occupied territories. Residents' familiarity with all aspects of the territories and the trust developed is essential to successful civil government. The exclusion of these residents from authority could be destructive, leading instead to factionalism and strife.
Fifth, the future of 12,000 Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli jails must be made clear so that their release becomes imminent.
Finally, the Palestinians in Gaza and Jericho must be given access to expertise and capital. These people never have organized an independent government, and the agreement does not provide specific support, economic or civil, to enable them to do so. Without such support, their ability to create a government seems doomed.
The accord and peace negotiations are a pragmatic process based on a recognition that perpetual Israeli expansion and perpetual Palestinian revolutionary struggle endanger both parties. Many individuals on both sides feel betrayed by their representatives. Palestinians are told to have faith that limited autonomy in Gaza and Jericho today will lead to complete sovereignty in the occupied territories.
If there is hope for peace in the long run it is that the political machinery established to resolve everyday civil problems of water, education, sanitation, and the like in the occupied territories can provide the base for a new political culture that will respect the people and politics of compromise over that of revolutionary rhetoric and imperialism. A legitimate political solution can only rest on fair and equitable cooperation between sovereign neighbors. The Opinion/Essay Page welcomes manuscripts. Authors of articles will be notified by telephone. Authors of articles not accepted will be notified by postcard. Send manuscripts by mail to Opinions/Essays, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115, by fax to 617 -450-2317, or by Internet E-mail to OPED@RACHEL.CSPS.COM.