The Peace of the Hidden Maps
THE vaunted Israeli Army is on the move once again. But instead of advancing on Arab territory, Israeli troops are withdrawing from it. By Christmas, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin intends to redeploy his soldiers completely from six Palestinian cities on the West Bank - from the casbah of Nablus to the Manara in Ramallah and Bethlehem's Manger Square - to make way for the first of 12,000 Palestinian police who will take up posts in seven Palestinian cities and 25 Palestinian towns by next April.
This redeployment is the most significant aspect of a complex agreement that is scheduled to progress in stages during the next two years. As with any agreement, the key to its success is the extent to which the minimal needs of each party are addressed. And on that score, there is ample reason to worry that Oslo II's success in preserving Israel's key interests in the West Bank - the security of Israel and of the West Bank's 150,000 Israeli settlers - has come at the expense of an agreement that ordinary Palestinians can live with.
"Any lawyer," explained an international diplomat who has read the 400-plus page accord, "knows that if you draft a contract that is too complicated, you increase the chances that it will not be honored." The Israel-PLO agreement, he notes, is unlike any international treaty that he has ever read. "The lack of trust between the parties remains so pervasive that Israel felt compelled to anticipate and to draft for every possible situation."
While the treaty's text is slowly making its way into the public domain, its nine maps are locked away in the legal office of the US State Department. Understanding the treaty - which aims to end the century-old contest over the lands of Palestine - without the maps is like buying a car sight-unseen.
Palestinian negotiators were laboring at such a disadvantage during almost the entire negotiations, because Israel refused to produce any maps until the text of the treaty had been hammered out. When Palestinian Authority chairman Yasser Arafat got his first glance at the maps, he stormed out of his session with Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres. He complained that Palestinians were being awarded a multitude of isolated cantons, islands in a sea still controlled by Israel.
Israel sought to mollify Arafat. The map that so exercised him showed major Palestinian cities in brown, and 400-plus villages where Palestinians will control affairs under "overriding" authority of the Israeli Army in yellow. The rest of the West Bank - some 70 percent - is to remain under Israeli control.
The fixes that brought Arafat back to finish negotiating are a different shade of yellow. A US official says the map now "connects some yellow areas in the most minimal way imaginable."
Arafat and Rabin know that Palestinians and Israelis alike are ambivalent about an agreement that promises each side far less than what it views as its historical entitlement. The point of their diplomacy, however, is not to satisfy such deep, antagonistic aspirations. Israel has learned that the vision of Greater Israel is, in Rabin's words, a "hallucination." Palestinian leaders have concluded that their achievements are limited by what Israel, the far stronger party, is prepared to offer. Together they have agreed to gamble that the limited transfer of authority so painstakingly choreographed in Oslo II will be enough to win popular Palestinian support.
Palestinians are certain to wince when, like Arafat, they are permitted a glance at the maps, which leave no doubt that despite the agreement's considerable achievements, Palestinian life will remain hostage to superior Israeli power. In the short term, Israel may win some advantage. It may not be enough, however, to lead to a lasting peace between the two peoples.