On September 23, speaking in Washington to the National Association of Arab Americans, Hanan Ashrawi said, "the more you speak out on issues, the more you break barriers and debunk myths and, of course, challenge taboos which are very artificial And it is time that we break these confines and that we challenge these taboos." Interestingly, Ashrawi's statement is one hundred percent applicable to Israel's situation. The time is long overdue for Israel to challenge the taboo of incorporating the lands of Judea, Samaria and Gaza. For more than thirty years, Israeli governments have been stubbornly running away from declaring sovereignty over the remaining 4% of the territory that Israel won during the Six Day War.
Since the Jewish state is dragging its feet it is not surprising that another contender to this territory - the PLO - feels obliged to announce its ownership of this land. Yasser Arafat made the world community aware of his intentions long ago when, in 1988, in Algiers, he declared statehood without having even a single inch of Palestine's territory under his control. Israel's complacence at that time could have been understood, since she did not feel threatened by a "paper state." However, she failed to fathom all the implications of Arafat's move when this "political state" was recognized by 124 governments worldwide.
Making the most of Israel's indecisiveness and complacence, the unceasing Arab propaganda managed to convince the international community that the Palestinian Authority (PA) is the only contender for the lands that Israel liberated in 1967. The Palestinian Arab leaders loudly declare at every occasion their plans to create a state, and this time they even have some territory under their control.
On September 23, in an interview on Ramallah Voice of Palestine radio, Dr. Nabil Sha'th, the official in charge of planning and international cooperation in the Palestinian Authority, said that on May 4, 1999 the Palestinian Arabs will declare the Palestinian state regardless of the results [of the negotiations with Israel]. This is a final, irreversible decision On that day, we will declare the Palestinian state that has sovereignty over the entire Palestinian land that was occupied in 1967, including Jerusalem. This state will seek through all means to regain what remains of the land, which Israel may still be occupying then.
Sha'th's statement makes the PA's strategy completely transparent. Suddenly, the territory that was always considered to be in dispute will gain an owner. As Gaza's newspaper Al-Hayah al-Jadidah wrote on September 16, presenting Fatah's view on the issue, this "will end the concept of disputed territories and entrench the concept of the occupied territories of an independent state."
The leaders of the Palestinian Arabs are not concerned that they are not going to have control over the whole territory of their "would-be-state." To the contrary, they see this as an opportunity to raise an armed insurrection against Israel. In her September 23, 1998, Washington speech, Hanan Ashrawi confirmed this, stating that, "a declaration of statehood does not mean that all our land will be miraculously liberated, that there will be a great deal of our land under occupation. And we will, as a state, struggle to liberate these lands." Nabil Sha'th brought up the same point in his aforementioned interview. He said:
"Once the state is declared, we will not stand idly by if Israel carries out an aggression on this land. We will resist this When we resorted to peace and accepted the peace process, we did not accept relinquishing any single inch of our land. If Israel is ready to continue withdrawal peacefully, we are with that peace."
Such declarations are extremely characteristic. Both Palestinian leaders willingly admit that for the PLO the "peace process" is only a means of extracting the lands of Judea, Samaria and Gaza from under Israel's control and declaring sovereignty over them. Israel's role is to "peacefully withdraw" from the land. As soon as Israel begins to resist, the "peace" is over.
If some Israeli leaders thought that Arafat's intention to proclaim a second Palestinian state will not be realized due to the small size of the territory that he will control by May 1999, they are heading towards a huge disappointment. Arafat has calculated a brilliant move. By proclaiming a state over the whole territory to the west of the Jordan river, the land that Israel liberated in the Six Day War, Arafat creates a situation in which Israel becomes an occupier of the "territory of an independent state." Knowing how much the international community "loves" Israel for "occupying" what are now only "territories" it is easy to predict how it will react to the occupation of the "territory of an independent state."
If one thinks that it is possible to prevent the proclamation of a second Palestinian state through negotiations one should listen to the PA leaders. Ashrawi put it very blatantly: "statehood is a right. It is not subject to negotiations. Palestinian self-determination and statehood have never been and will never be subject to an agreement with Israel. This is not a negotiating point. This is a right" It is also absolutely ridiculous for Israel to try to postpone this declaration through additional troop withdrawal. Every inch of territory granted to the Palestinian Arabs only reinforces the PA's position. If Israel does not understand this her counterpart does. On August 31, one could have read in an editorial on the official Fatah web-site,
A declaration of statehood, while the PNA controls only 3% of the West Bank, as it does now, would be far weaker than a declaration made with the PNA controlling 17%, in addition to the land in Area B, which amounts to another 25%. The additional land would obviously strengthen our position in any confrontation.
Even more toothless are the proclamations of the Israeli leaders who "disagree" with the PA's intents. Defense Minister Mordechai's threat that Israel is capable of taking "a series of steps which will be costly to the Palestinians," Prezident Weizman's naive statement that Palestinian statehood "must be based on agreement. You don't declare a state without backing," and Prime Minister Netanyahu's self evident conclusion that "unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state would constitute a fundamental violation of the Oslo Accords. It would cause the complete collapse of the process," do nothing to change the course of events. They only emphasize the impotence and spinelessness of the Jewish state. No words can replace deeds when action is desperately needed.
As a result of the procrastination over proclaiming her sovereignty in the lands of Yesha, the Jewish state finds itself today in an almost impossible situation, since neither negotiations nor troop withdrawal can stop the proclamation of a second Palestinian state on the whole territory of Judea, Samaria and Gaza. The only viable strategy that Israel can employ in order to prevent this is an outright annexation of the lands of Yesha. This preemptive move will reverse the situation. After Israel declares sovereignty over the land that she controls, the land becomes an indivisible part of an independent state. Accordingly, any subsequent moves by the PA or PLO against Israel's territory should be considered as an act of aggression against a country-member of the United Nations.
From the legal standpoint Israel has much more right to proclaim sovereignty over the lands of Yesha then the PA does. William O'Brien, Professor of Government at Georgetown University, and an authority on the international law of war, wrote in the book Law and Morality in Israel's War with the PLO:
"Between the end of Israel's War of Independence and the 1967 June War, the status of the West Bankwas unclear. Jordan annexed the West Bank but the annexation was only recognized by Great Britain and Pakistan. Jordan, having seized the West Bank by force of arms in 1949 without acquiring sovereignty over it, had lost it by force of arms. [In July, 1988] King Hussein, in affect, unannexed the West Bank, cutting all legal ties with the area. Since than, the only claimant to the West Bank, besides Israel, has been the PLO."
While evaluating the legal rights of both claimants it is important to remember that Israel, through her Jewish citizens, has the legal right of settling the West Bank lands according to the April 24,1920 San Remo League of Nations decision that was not overridden by any international document. At the same time, the PLO, from the very moment of its inception, has devoted its complete activity towards the destruction of Israel -- a country-member of the United Nations. When judging Israel's actions, the international community must remember to look at the whole picture of the Israeli-Arab conflict. A Palestinian state already exists: it is Jordan, and, as Netanyahu wrote in his book A Place Among the Nations, it "endows the Palestinians with a national home." (344) What can be better proof of this than the absorption by Jordan of the "three hundred thousand Palestinian Arabs who were expelled by Kuwait for their role in the Gulf War "(345). The international community should heed what Netanyahu wrote:
"For three-quarters of a century the Jews have repeatedly compromised on substantive strategic, historical, and moral claims in order to placate their Arab neighbors in the hope of buying peace. The Arabs, possessing lands over five hundred times greater in area than Israel's, must now do a small fraction of what Israel has done; For the sake of peace, they must renounce their claims to four-thousandths - .0004 -- of the lands they desire, which constitutes the very heart of the Jewish homeland and the protective wall of the Jewish state. (348)"
It is exactly this land that Netanyahu speaks of to which Israel must extend her sovereignty. Israel's annexation of Yesha is not going to be easily accepted by the world community, since the Jewish state has wasted too much precious time by ignoring the Arab propaganda. However Israel cannot afford to unveil a counter-propaganda campaign, it must act immediately. It is better to be ostracized by the world community and preserve the Jewish state than to allow the establishment of a second Palestinian state, and the subsequent demise of Israel.[9/26/98]
Boris Shusteff is an engineer in upstate New York. He is also a research associate with the Freeman Center for Strategic Studies.