Reprinted from The Jerusalem Post of November 5, 1997
Arafat is just one step away from declaring the independence of his state.
Israel's negotiators at Oslo intended that the agreements would lead to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. No amount of denials by Labor Party leaders can change this fact. Virtually all the makings of sovereignty and independence are embedded in the language of those agreements. The Palestinian members of the negotiating team have confirmed that this was the common understanding of both sides, even though statehood was not explicitly mentioned in the final document.
Today, long before the final status negotiations have begun, the territory controlled by the Palestinian Authority is out of bounds to Israelis. Any Israeli who happens to stray into areas A or B risks his life. In drastic contrast, Palestinians by the droves visit Israeli towns and villages, sit in restaurants and cafes, are treated in Israeli hospitals and not a hair on their head is harmed, even on a day when Israelis are murdered by Palestinian suicide bombers.
The interim agreement with the PA signed in Washington in September, 1995, stipulates that "Israel shall continue to carry the responsibility for external security" (Art.X4). This clause enables Israel to control entry and exit from and into the PA-controlled territory. Once Israel loses this critical element of external security, there is nothing to prevent the Palestinian Authority from importing advanced and heavy weaponry, thereby creating a foreign military base positioned next to Israel's heartland.
There is therefore a dangerous contradiction between article X4 mentioned above, and article XI and XII in annex I of the Gaza-Jericho Agreement of May 4, 1994. The latter articles refer to the establishment of an airfield in Dahaniya and a maritime port in Gaza, both under the control of the PA. Negotiations on the two outlets have been going on sporadically for some time. Israeli representatives have intimated that the obstacle to reaching an agreement pertains to the security arrangements which Israel insists on setting up in or around the ports. On their part, the Palestinians are adamantly opposed to the emplacement of Israeli controllers and monitoring equipment on the spot.
Even without having an airfield and a port at their disposal, Palestinian VIP's, right up to Yasser Arafat himself, have been caught smuggling wanted terrorists, arms and explosives into the PA territory. There can be no doubt that no matter how intensive and elaborate Israeli security arrangements may be, PA officials will find the ways and means of increasing the smuggling into their territory of people and weapons that represent a real threat to Israel.
The issue is not just a problem of security. Arafat is just one step away from declaring the independence of his state. He controls territory (albeit limited and fragmented), a functioning government service, a large bureaucracy and several police and security forces. He has some 40,000 to 50,000 men under arms - a veritable army - in flagrant violation of the agreements. He only lacks control over the entry and exit to his state-in-the-making. Without this, he cannot really claim to rule a sovereign entity.
Israel will be committing a tragic blunder if it grants him this request. It might just as well place a bomb at its doorstep, a bomb that cannot be diffused except by war. (c) Jerusalem Post 1997
Yossi Ben-Aharon is a former director-general of the Prime Minister's Office