The Jerusalem Post - April 21, 2000

A PALESTINIAN STATE NOW?

By Zalman Shoval

(April 21) - Inspired leaks in Washington and Jerusalem, and an array of ministerial interviews indicate that the Barak government has decided to recognize a Palestinian state in September of this year - or even earlier. Israel has come a long way in this matter since the signing of the Oslo agreements in 1993.

Before that, Israel's position had been clear: No second state west of the Jordan river. Indeed, the very concept of a "functional" compromise as espoused by Menachem Begin, Moshe Dayan (and for a certain time, Shimon Peres) among others, as opposed to "territorial" compromise, was based on the principle that though the Palestinians would run most of their own affairs independently of Israel - this would not occur within the framework of separate statehood.

This wasn't only Israel's position, but that of America as well; in its letter of assurance to Israel in preparation of the 1991 Madrid Conference, the US specifically stated that it would not support the establishment of a separate Palestinian state; that commitment was conveniently forgotten during President Clinton's visit to Gaza in 1998 when he made a number of statements which indicated at least a quasi-recognition of statehood.

There are now rumors that Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat has been promised America's outright recognition in September. For the sake of fairness, it must be said that Clinton and his administration are only following in the tracks of senior Israeli politicians who have said more than once that Israel would not object to a Palestinian state.

There are those who believe that a Palestinian state will be the solution to all the problems relating to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict - but conversely, it could also be the creation of a much more serious and long-term problem.

"But isn't a Palestinian state by now inevitable?" - many will ask. The answer probably is "yes." However, there are events throughout history, which may be deemed to have been inevitable - but "inevitable" does not necessarily mean desirable. The Bolshevik revolution in Russia or Khomeini in Iran may have been inevitable, but in retrospect, were they desirable? Surely not.

What sort of country will that Palestinian state be? It is not very realistic to expect it to be altogether different from the political culture in most of the Arab countries surrounding it.

It suffices to look at the administrative, political and economic record of the PA to expect that this "state" will be another undemocratic, and economically non-viable entity. As the Washington Post wrote some months ago: "Many Palestinians are deeply resentful that the autonomy they wanted for so long brought corruption, mismanagement, favoritism and an obtrusive police and security apparatus."

But there could also be a far worse scenario, the creation of another Middle Eastern rogue state, perhaps repressively Islamic - certainly anti-Israel, probably anti-American, possibly identifying with the most extreme regimes in the region. It could also be a breeding ground for international terrorism, as the PLO semi-state in Lebanon was at the time. Christian Arabs, by the way, have already seen the writing on the wall: Tens of thousands of Palestinian Christians have already left the country, especially Bethlehem - and more will follow.

It is no secret that views on the Oslo agreement are divided. Some saw it as a significant step towards Palestinian-Israeli peace - others as the beginning of the countdown to the next Arab-Israeli war.

The Netanyahu government had achieved a major strategic victory in redefining some of the terms of reference of "Oslo" and in lowering the Palestinians' expectations to more realistic levels, but if the aforementioned "leaks" are true, the present government may now be squandering its predecessor's achievement.

This is so with regard to the tactics employed - practically offering the Palestinians their most cherished goal, recognized statehood, without demanding anything in return - and more importantly in the matter of the geographical dimensions of a future state.

Some ministers speak of handing over to the Palestinians 90% of the territories, others of "only" 80%. Geography and topography continue to be vital factors in Israeli security - even more so in the missile age - and there is a widespread consensus that even for purely military reasons, Israel's future borders must be very different from the pre-'67 armistice lines.

What do we hear now? That though most of the settlements located in large "blocs" will remain under Israeli sovereignty, those areas will not necessarily be contiguous - thus becoming isolated and vulnerable "islands" inside the Palestinian state.

Conventional political wisdom has it that Clinton is determined to have an Israel-Palestinian agreement before his term ends - but I have no doubt that he would not consciously put pressure on Israel to make decisions which will endanger its very existence in the future.

 As Henry Kissinger put it: "The Arab side must shed the illusion that it can, with American help, maneuver Israel into yielding, step-by-step, most of its ultimate program. Such a strategy is more likely to lead to an explosion than to a settlement."

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Zalman Shoval is a former Likud MK and ambassador to the US.



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