Get ready for May 5, 1999. That's when the Palestinians plan to "declare the establishment of our independent Palestinian state, delineate its borders, designate its capital and define the relations it will have with other countries." The United Nations will undoubtedly rush to admit the new state as a full member, as countries the world over extend their recognition.
But that's just the beginning. The Palestinians then intend to "invite all the Palestinians in the world to return to this state if they wish, as a first step to the return of the refugees too." According to their inflated figures, that includes some six million people, more than Israel's entire population today, Jew and Arab.
And the Palestinians will do all this without violating a single provision of any of the Israel-PLO accords.
How do we know all this? The passages above are exact quotations from Ahmed Quria (aka Abu Ala), speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council and one of the chief negotiators of the Israel-PLO pacts. Quria was speaking to Radio Monte Carlo on May 5, 1997, two years to the day before the plans are to be carried out. As Quria explained, Israel and the PLO have so far signed only interim agreements for Palestinian self-rule. These transitional arrangements are to last for a "period not exceeding five years," counting from the first Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and Jericho on May 4, 1994. Meanwhile, "permanent status" negotiations opened formally in May 1996 but have not convened since. They are meant to resolve all outstanding issues -- including borders, refugees, Israeli settlements, foreign relations and Jerusalem -- so that a permanent status can take effect on May 5, 1999, after the interim period ends.
But what if permanent status negotiators fail to agree before the deadline? What if the interim phase ends with no new arrangement to take its place? Quria says this question "threatened the agreement with collapse. We spent a whole day discussing this condition and the agreement was on the verge of foundering because we insisted that the interim period should not exceed five years."
In other words, if no new pact is reached on time, all agreements will expire. Both sides will be free of their obligations. All the hard work of the Israeli negotiators -- who strove to protect Israel's national
interests in matters such as security cooperation, transfer of terrorist suspects, joint patrols, restrictions on Palestinian armaments, even the borders of the self-rule areas -- will become irrelevant.
Other Palestinian officials have made remarks similar to Quria's. Dr. Ahmed Tibi, Israeli adviser to Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat, told the Jordanian newspaper Al-Dustur, "The Palestinian side has its own option to declare this state after the period of time specified for the final-status negotiations ends" (April 21, 1997). Faisal Husseini, responsible for Jerusalem affairs in the PA, told Jordan's Al-Ray newspaper that "The negotiations must end a few years from 1996.... If the Israeli side procrastinates further, we will just declare our Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital" (February 6, 1997).
All were following the line set by the boss himself, Yasser Arafat. Arafat told French radio station Europe-1, "As soon as the interim period is over, we shall declare our Palestinian state. In two years' time." (November 22, 1996). All this will come to pass, of course, only if Israel and the Palestinians fail to reach a permanent status accord on time. But what could Israel offer which would satisfy the Palestinians? As long as they can achieve all their goals even if talks fail, the Palestinians have no incentive to compromise with any of Israel's positions.
And Quria's plans go far beyond the maximum acceptable even to Israel's dovish Labor party, which last week said it "would not rule out the possibility of a Palestinian state" -- provided its sovereignty is limited, it is demilitarized, it may not form military alliances and Israel's air force may use its air space. Why should the PA accept such restrictions when it can declare full sovereignty without even violating any of its agreements with Israel?
Most likely, the Palestinians never intended to reach a permanent status agreement in the first place. Arafat's May 1994 Johannesburg speech comes to mind, in which he compared the Oslo Accords to the ancient agreement Mohammed signed with the pagan Quraish tribe. That temporary ten-year truce has served as a model for later pacts between Muslims and infidels. When Mohammed was strong enough, he found a pretext to void the agreement and slaughtered the Quraish.
Similarly, Arafat has repeatedly described the Oslo Accords as a realization of the PLO's 1974 resolution, commonly known as the "phased plan," which called for the establishment of a "Palestinian National Authority" (exactly what the PA calls itself in Arabic) on any territory "liberated" from Israel. The authority was to serve as the first step in the process of "liberation of all Palestinian territory," that is, the eradication of the Jewish state.
Considering Arafat's plans for 1999, it is obvious why he has rejected Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's proposal for accelerated permanent status talks, aimed at reaching an agreement within six months rather than two years. Arafat isn't really interested in the permanent status talks so long as he can persuade the world that the Palestinians have negotiated with good will. An accelerated six-month negotiating process might expose his ploy eighteen months before the interim phase ends.
More important to Arafat is the rest of the interim phase, in which Israel is committed to handing over further chunks of territory. Arafat will use every means at his disposal to pressure Israel into withdrawing from most of the West Bank -- over 90 percent, according to Quria -- which is all he needs before declaring a state.
In fact, the only way Arafat's plans can be blocked is if Israel withholds the pieces of land that would give him territorial continuity. Today, the PA's areas of jurisdiction in the West Bank comprise nearly all the towns and villages, including over 97% of the Arab population and 30% of the territory. But the enclaves are disconnected. Arafat might be embarrassed to declare a "sovereign state," knowing that no one can travel from one village to the next without passing Israeli checkpoints.
Meanwhile, there is little sense in Israel giving Arafat more land when all agreements expire in two years. Instead, Israel must prevent Arab construction in the vital areas linking parts of the PA's current jurisdiction.
Finally, Israel must make it clear to Arafat that if the Palestinian obligations expire, so do the Israeli commitments. Arafat must know that if he unilaterally declares statehood, Israel will respond immediately by cutting the PA off from all Israeli funds -- currently supporting much of its budget -- and by unilaterally annexing the remaining 70% of the West Bank. That area is nearly uninhabited by Arabs, containing only some 30,000, and much of it is desert. It is "unoccupied territory" in every way. Despite Arafat's public facade of despair at the current impasse in negotiations with Israel, Tibi says Arafat "is not at all desperate because he pursues a long-term policy."
Israel must do the same.
Jason and Leiah Elbaum are editors of Information Regarding Israel's Security, an
Internet-based information service <http://www.netaxs.com/~iris/>