By Avi Davis

The decision of the Likud Party's Central Committee in Israel on Sunday to reject the concept of a Palestinian state came as little surprise. It reflects the prevailing mood of the Israeli right and a growing acceptance on the left that the Palestinians have forfeited a right to statehood.

In fact, with the vote the Likud Party is challenging a central canon of international relations: the automatic right to self-determination. It has good reason to do so. Many of the same Arab nations that fought for their freedom after World War II and claimed the right of self-determination have transformed themselves into entrenched enemies of progress, brutally repressing their people and projecting a threat to their neighbors and to the maintenance of international order. Instead of a comity of nations dedicated to the advancement of their people, countries such as Libya, Syria, Sudan and Iraq have devolved into dictatorships, unconcerned with human rights or individual liberties.

That pattern would doubtlessly repeat itself with the creation of a Palestinian state. For anyone observing the development of the Palestinian Authority over the past nine years and the Palestine Liberation Organization over the past 40 years, the view is grim. Instead of freedom the people of Palestine could expect only further repression; instead of peace they would be urged to constant aggression against neighboring countries; instead of prosperity they would see more corruption and nepotism.

In reviewing the failures of the past century, shouldn't we be reassessing the standard for statehood? Rather than becoming an automatic right, statehood should be qualified by the following test:

Are the people capable of governing themselves by building solid institutions that promote freedom, peace and prosperity? Would the creation of a state engender less danger for neighboring states? How much better off would the subject population be with a native government? If the would-be nation cannot meet these basic standards, statehood is not the answer.

There is a better solution. After World War I, the Paris Peace Conference recognized that the populations of certain regions were not ready, by reason of internal discord or an absence of leadership, for statehood. Thus Palestine (incorporating Trans-Jordan) and Lebanon became wards of the British Empire and the Third French Republic, respectively.

The mandates these nations were awarded carried specific instructions to nurture the regions into political maturity. Although neither Britain nor France always acted responsibly in carrying out its directives, there were some promising results. General prosperity, the development of representative institutions and the institution of secular law set a tone that left a lasting memory.

The Arab population in the West Bank and Gaza could benefit from a similar mandatory system. Supervised by the United States under a plan negotiated in advance with Israel and Jordan, Palestinian towns and villages could be nurtured with representative institutions, allowing Palestinians a say in their own administration, even if short of sovereignty. The U.S. mandate would facilitate the development of an educational system and an economy focused on peaceful coexistence with neighboring states. Security would be jointly in the hands of Israel, Jordan and the United States.

The imposition of such a mandate, however, requires one vital preliminary step: The Palestinian terrorist infrastructure must be crushed and expelled. The Palestinian Authority, as constituted, represents the greatest threat to peace in the region and the welfare of the Palestinian people.

Once freed of the Palestinian Authority's control, there eventually would rise a tier of middle-class merchants and intellectuals who appreciate the viability of a state founded on the principles of democracy and a respect for human rights. No one should pretend that such a concept will obtain immediate acceptance. But as the Bush administration prepares to dismantle another self-determined terrorist state in the same region, it is certainly an appropriate time to consider alternatives.


Avi Davis is the senior fellow of the Freeman Center for Strategic Studies.

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