حول التسوية السياسية في الشرق الأوسط: البعد الفلسطيني
كلمات مفتاحية: 
diplomacy
النص الكامل: 

 

Moves towards a settlement of the Middle East conflict have clearly reached a turning point, and nothing symbolizes this situation so graphically as the fact that attention is now being devoted to the problem of the Palestinians. It is one of the curiosities of the Middle East question that so little energy has until now been dedicated to solving what any specialist would agree is the issue at the core of the Arab-Israeli conflict, and that so much effort on the other hand has been devoted to circumventing it. In these circumstances, it seems appropriate to analyse the current Palestinian position, as well as the present Israeli attitude. The Palestine issue will probably determine the future of the Middle East: either a political settlement resulting in permanent peace, or further crises and new wars with momentous international repercussions.

 

"AN INDEPENDENT (PALESTINIAN) NATIONAL STATE..."

 

As expressed by the PLO, the Palestinian attitude to the efforts to reach a political settlement in the Middle East is now clearer than ever before. In brief, the PLO is prepared to agree to, and to participate in, a political solution of the Middle East crisis in return for recognition of the Palestinian people's right to their homes and/or to be compensated for the loss of their property, and also their right to self-determination and to "establish their independent national state on the soil of their homeland." This is the gist of the political programme approved by the Palestinian National Council at its recent Thirteenth Session in Cairo during March 1977. The National Council's resolution calling for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state in part of the territory of Palestine indicates that a considerable change has taken place in the attitude of the Palestinian national movement in general and the PLO in particular. Since the first partition proposal was put forward forty years ago, the Palestinian Arab attitude towards partition has been one of consistent rejection. To appreciate the significance of the current change in attitude, it will be instructive to examine past solutions calling for the establishment of a partitioned Palestinian state.

 

The proposal that Palestine should be partitioned into two states, one Arab and one Jewish, was first made by the British Peel Commission in 1937 in an attempt to end the Great Palestinian Revolt (1936-1939) which was then at its height. This proposal was rejected by the Arabs as a matter of principle and by the Zionists as a matter of tactics. The curtain was finally rung down on it by the publication in 1939 of a British White Paper providing for the eventual establishment of a united independent Palestine, which would have an Arab majority with guarantees for the Jewish minority. World War II broke out in that year, also setting a seal on the demise of the Peel proposals. However, ten years later, partition re-emerged as a proposed solution, when the United Nations adopted it in 1947. This time the Zionists accepted the proposal and the Arabs rejected it. The ensuing war resulted in the establishment of the State of Israel in part of the territory of Palestine, while the remainder was annexed by or attached to the neighbouring Arab countries. From then on the idea of a partitioned Palestinian state was never seriously considered until it was revived in the early seventies in the form of a call for the establishment of such a state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, within the framework of a comprehensive settlement of the Middle East crisis.

 

The proposal that a Palestinian state be established only in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip -about 23 percent of the total area of Palestine -evoked violently hostile reactions among most Palestinians, whatever organization they belonged to and whatever their point of view. No terms were sufficiently opprobrious for it. Some Palestinian zealots even appointed themselves the custodians of Palestinian "patriotism" and vied with each other in their rigorous surveillance of every move in Palestinian circles, lest someone should "get out of control" and express support for the "pygmy state" or commit even greater excesses of "surrenderism" and "defeatism." This is neither the time nor the place to catalogue the immense amount of abuse that was heaped on the proposal and those who supported it. Their attitude is amply recorded in what National Councils of the time said on the matter, taking note of the grandiloquent style at which the drafters of Palestinian statements are often so proficient.

 

Thus, the Seventh Session of the Palestinian National Council (Cairo, June 1970) adopted a binding statement signed by all sections of the Palestine resistance and the Executive Committee of the PLO, issued in Amman on May 6, 1970, which contains the following passage: "The people of Palestine and their national liberation movement are struggling for total liberation and reject all peaceful, liquidationist and surrenderist solutions, including the reactionary-imperialist conspiracies to establish a Palestinian state in part of the territory of Palestine... " The political programme adopted by the Eighth Session (Cairo, February-March 1971) calls for "resolute opposition to those who advocate the establishment of a Palestinian state on part of Palestinian soil, inasmuch as efforts to establish such a state can be seen only in the context of the liquidation of the Palestine problem..." The Ninth, Tenth and Eleventh Sessions (1971-73) all similarly condemned calls for the establishment of a "Palestinian statelet."

 

Some change in this attitude did take place as a result of the new situation that arose following the October 1973 war. The Twelfth Session of the National Council (Cairo, June 1974) endorsed the "Ten-Point Programme" which approved the "establishment of the independent combatant national authority for the people... in the part of Palestinian territory that is liberated. " But this programme did not represent a fundamental change in the previous attitude for, according to its preamble: "It is impossible for a permanent and just peace to be established in the area unless our Palestinian people recover all their national rights and, first and foremost, their rights to return and to self-determination on the whole of the soil of their homeland," where "whole" is the operative word. The programme also says that "any step taken towards liberation is a step towards the realization of the PLO's strategy of establishing the democratic Palestinian state specified in the resolutions of previous National Councils." The "democratic Palestinian state," according to these previous resolutions, is the state that is to be established in Palestine after the "complete and total liberation of Palestinian soil from the occupation of Zionism and its base, Israel."

 

Any comparison between the attitudes and phraseology of previous PLO political programmes, and those to be found in the new one, clearly demonstrates a fundamental change in the Palestinian position. The slogan of the "democratic state" appeared in the resolutions of all National Councils from the time it was first adopted, in 1969, until 1973; it does not appear in the latest political programme. The new programme does not, like its predecessors, talk of a "democratic state,") a "'national authority" or a "Palestinian state over all of Palestine" with all that these expressions imply. On the contrary, it is based on UN General Assembly resolutions (which, in principle, approve of the partition of Palestine and the establishment of two states in it, one Jewish and one Arab, and which are thus contradictory to the Palestinian National Charter). It calls for the establishment of an "independent national state" - in short, an independent Palestinian state in part of the territory of Palestine.

 

There has also been a change in the National Council's view of the efforts to reach a political settlement and the manner in which this is to be achieved. This is a result of the fundamental change in the Palestinian attitude. The National Council has abandoned its "traditional" method of rejecting everything without saying what it wants; thus it has allowed the PLO Executive Committee freedom of action as regards moves for a political settlement, asserting "the PLO's right to participate independently and on a basis of equality in all conferences, forums and efforts related to the Palestine problem and the Arab-Zionist conflict." The granting of such extensive powers to the Executive Committee is another innovation: the Ten-Point Programme restricted the Committee's freedom of action by a clause which says: "Should a situation arise affecting the destiny and future of the Palestinian people, the National Council shall be convened in extraordinary session" to take the necessary decision. That is to say, the Council retained the power of taking final decisions. But now, the PLO Executive Committee lawfully possesses the power to take decisions on the efforts to reach a political settlement. However, to make sure that the Palestinian attitude is clear, the Council has also said that "any settlement or agreement prejudicial to the rights of the Palestinian people concluded without reference to them is absolutely null and void," and affirmed "the PLO's rejection of all settlements involving surrender... and all proposals involving the liquidation of the Palestine problem" and its determination to "impede any settlement made at the expense of the established national rights of our people. "

 

The National Council also changed its attitude as to the methods to be employed to secure the rights of the Palestinian people. It reiterated "the PLO's determination to continue [armed] struggle," but added the words "accompanied by all kinds of political and mass struggle." The Charter stipulates that "armed struggle is the only way this end can be achieved stressing the world "only" - and that, being the only way, it is "strategic, not tactical." Furthermore, although according to the Charter, the objective of this struggle is "the liberation of Palestine," the current goal is now stated to be the "achievement of the national rights... of the Palestinian Arab people. " Of course, the struggle of the Palestinians in the occupied areas has for some time now taken the form of mass political protest, such as demonstrations, strikes, acts of civil disobedience, and so on, against the Israeli occupation authorities and the measures taken by them. Many, however, are doubtful as to the efficacy of "political and mass struggle" alone in persuading the Israelis (and others) to change their policies.

 

THE DYNAMICS OF THE CHANGE

 

The fact that the PLO now calls for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state in part of the territory of Palestine and demands participation in efforts to reach a political settlement in the area certainly means that the Palestinians have adopted a new attitude, very different from all the previous attitudes. This is all the more true because such a settlement would clearly involve making concessions and agreeing to restrictions and guarantees for all parties involved. But this shift raises a number of questions. What are the reasons for it? How credible is it? How far does it go and what does it hope to achieve? Let us now try to answer these questions.

 

This change in the Palestinian attitude is the result of a number of varied factors, some of them historical and others pragmatic. Perhaps the most important factor is the reaction, suppressed though it may often be, of new generations of Palestinians to the over-rigid and unrealistic policy pursued by their fathers and grandfathers, by the pursuit of which they led their people to disaster. In fact modern Palestinian history can be summed up as a series of rejections of all the proposals and solutions suggested by every quarter for the solution of the Palestine problem. For example, the Palestinians rejected the Balfour Declaration in 1917, the British mandate over Palestine in 1920, the White Paper in 1922, which tried to meet some of their demands, the proposal for a Palestinian Legislative Council and the subsequent proposal for the establishment of an Arab Agency in 1923, the renewed proposal for a Legislative Council in 1931, the British proposal for the partition of Palestine in 1937, the United Nations partition resolution in 1947, the Arab-Israeli armistice agreements in 1949, the Bourguiba plan in 1965 and, finally, the Rogers Plan in 1970 -half a century of continuous rejection. The point here is not that the Palestinians should have accepted these proposals or plans, especially as some of them were extremely prejudicial to their rights; but rather that their rejection established a pattern of tactical inflexibility and empty refusal. The verbal and rhetorical opposition was not supported by any power to make rejection effective. The old Palestinian leadership of the Mandate period, drawn from the big families, notables, merchants and a few intellectuals, was incapable of realistic analysis of the local and international situation. It took refuge in declarations and speeches, in statements and demands for Arab unity and independence, with two main results. First, these led nowhere on the international scene, since at that time no one was prepared to listen to them, for the leadership was not to the slightest degree capable of achieving any of these demands, Secondly, it led to the rise of a Palestinian "public opinion" which insisted that the Palestinians must get everything or nothing, with the result that they generally got nothing.

 

The Zionists, on the other hand, were far more realistic; well aware of their strength and resources, they pursued their aims with great flexibility, concentrating on actions, not just words. Quick to bend, sometimes even to "vanish" before the storm, they returned to continue their work of building their national home gradually, brick by brick "dunum after dunum and goat after goat." The passage of time proved the efficacy of this policy.

 

The lesson that the majority of Palestinians have gradually learned from comparing these two policies is that realism, pragmatism and moderation are not to be despised as a means of achieving a people's goals.

 

If the Palestinians were disappointed in the old policy and leadership, they were no less disappointed by the majority of the Arab states, and peoples. After the 1948 disaster the Palestinians had high hopes that the Arab countries and armies would rescue them and recover at least some of their rights. With this end in view the Palestinians plunged headlong into intense political activity, especially in the Eastern Arab countries. With great enthusiasm, they played leading and extremely influential roles in many Arab political parties. However, in less than twenty years it became clear that their hopes had been misplaced, and that the Arabs had, in one way or another, palmed them off with empty words. This disillusionment was increased by the bad treatment the Palestinians received at the hands of various Arab regimes. The other lesson the Palestinians learned from this experience was also quite clear: God helps him who helps himself.

 

The violent incidents in which the Palestinians have been involved for several years, and which have resulted in so many of their young men being killed, wounded or taken prisoner, not just by Israel but also by Arab governments, have certainly also helped to make many of them more realistic.

 

However, the change in the Palestinian attitude is not the result of these negative factors only. Even more important are the positive factors arising from the development of the Palestinian people over the last three decades. During this period the Palestinians, for reasons which need not be enumerated here, have been transformed from a semi-feudal and semi-tribal society, living basically on agriculture, to a people of intellectuals, technocrats, technicians, merchants, civil servants and proletarians.

 

This transformation has been accompanied by the adoption of the ideas, hopes and aspirations characteristic of these classes. New leaderships emerged who tended to regard the "glories" of the Palestinian past with aversion and distaste rather than admiration. They were more concerned with action than with slogans and idle nostalgic dreams. The result was a conflict of generations between these new leaderships and the old traditional ones, which, though generally muted, lasted for a considerable time until it was settled at the end of the sixties. The election of Yasser Arafat and his companions as chairman and members of the PLO Executive Committee, not only showed that the groups in favour of armed struggle and self-reliance as a means of achieving the rights of the Palestinians had come to power; it was also an expression of the fact that power within the Palestinian camp was now in the hands of the new generation.

 

Although its consequences were not immediately obvious, this change in the base of power had its effect on the manner in which Palestinian decisions were taken. The new leadership, and the tens of thousands of civilian and military activists who are the flesh and blood of the PLO, are liberated from the complexes of the Palestinian past. Most of them have grown up, or at least become politically aware, since the establishment of Israel their ages range from the middle thirties to the middle fifties. Thus those who now formulate and implement PLO policies do not feel that they are "selling Palestine" or "renouncing" the rights of its people by being realistic and appreciating that they will have to pursue policies, make concessions or commit themselves to guarantees rejected by others in the past. On the contrary, they feel that by being realistic, they are trying to correct the previous errors and to save what can be saved, for after all, Palestine was never in their pockets and it was not they who lost it. It is important to note that the current leadership, and the majority of its assistants and advisers, did not come to power for family or class reasons, but as a result of unremitting political or military activity in difficult and unfavourable conditions, and as a result of their own merit. This gives them self-confidence and the ability and flexibility to take new decisions or to pursue new policies if they consider these to be in the best interests of the Palestinian people. The level of development attained by the Palestinian people (the ratio of university graduates is higher for Palestinians than for any other Arab country) suggests that, if they obtained an independent entity in part of their territory, the Palestinians would be capable of building a new life for themselves and solving most of their problems in such a way as to safeguard their own interests without injuring others.

 

External factors have contributed just as much to the change in the Palestinian attitude. During the last seven years, support for the Palestinians has been increasing rapidly in all parts of the world, but most friends and supporters have advised moderation and realism. As moves are directed towards finding a political settlement of the Middle East crisis, the Palestinians have been given to understand by many of the countries which sympathize with them that the most they can hope for is a Palestinian state in part of the territory of Palestine and that not a single country of any importance is prepared to go along with them further than that. It has also been made abundantly clear to the Palestinians that if they choose to go their own way they will have to bear the sole responsibility for their actions and confront their destiny alone.

 

The birth of the change in the Palestinian attitude probably dates back to the period after the October 1973 War. With the intensification of political efforts to reach a political settlement of the Middle East crisis, the Palestinians believed that the area might be on the brink of a new era in its history, to which appropriate political attitudes must be adopted.

 

It was not easy to adopt a new attitude quickly, because of the historical mentality of rejection which tended to make many people cling to previous attitudes. The advocates of change were also unsure as to whether the chances of peace were genuine or illusory, and this reduced their momentum. From the end of the October l 973 War until the Palestinian National Council met in June 1974, however, the Palestinian community was engaged in constant discussion of the options; consultations and seminars took place in PLO offices and among Palestinians in Beirut; contacts with major Palestinian groupings in the occupied territories and throughout the Arab world were thoroughly carried out. As these consultations approached their end shortly before the meeting of the National Council (which was postponed for nearly four months until the consultations were complete) it was clear that the majority was in favour of changing Palestinian policy, as long as such a change was made with great deliberation and caution. As this trend gradually became clear, the Palestinian camp was divided into two factions. On the one hand there was a "statist" majority accepting participation in a political settlement and the establishment of a Palestinian state and labelled by their opponents as "surrenderists" and "grovellers." Against them was a minority, "rejectionists" in their own view, "professional emigres" in the eyes of their opponents. It was on this basis that the political alliances within the Palestinian camp were reconstructed.

 

WHAT ARE THE LIMITS OF THE CHANGE?

 

Although the Palestinian attitude has become considerably more moderate, this does not mean that the Palestinians can agree to any political settlement at any cost and on any terms. There are vital Palestinian needs that must be fulfilled if a political settlement of the Middle East crisis is to be acceptable to the Palestinians, as well as a number of "red lines" that Palestinian public opinion will not permit any Palestinian leadership to cross. Here it may be as well to clarify certain points.

 

The first question is what sort of entity the Palestinians want if there is a political settlement. The Palestinians are demanding an independent Palestinian state with a distinctive national identity, while others talk of a "homeland" or a "national homeland," or an "entity," and so on. The difference between these terms is clear. The Palestinians' demand for their own independent state is not only an expression of their suppressed aspirations; it is also an urgent necessity if they are to solve their problems, and create a new life for themselves. Perhaps the best expression of the Palestinians' aspiration is a Palestinian's description of the Palestinian state he wants as being "a state with a flag five feet long and three feet wide, and a passport two feet long and one foot wide." No living Palestinian has ever lived under Palestinian rule or a Palestinian flag and this at a time when all the Arab peoples and many other peoples have attained their independence. The ordinary Palestinian cannot understand, for example, why Jewish immigrants to Israel from all over the world have the right to live in a state of their own, established in his land, whereas he has no such right. Nor can he understand why dozens of African peoples (some of whom receive aid from the PLO) have become independent in the last two decades while he has not.

 

The feeling of the need for a "Palestinian passport" is more painful, because it is so intimately related to the daily life of the Palestinian and his right to have somewhere to live, to move about and to make a decent living. In most Arab countries he is used to restrictions on freedom of movement and work, to arbitrary expulsion from a country as if he had no rights, or, in the case of Palestinian students, arbitrary expulsion from universities. On the other hand, when Palestinians hold passports issued by Arab countries, this situation has too often been exploited by those countries to exert political pressures on the holders: many of them have had their passports withdrawn, and been left hanging in mid-air. The abuse of the right to grant passports by Arab governments has indeed led to separatist feelings in most Palestinians that have set them apart from other Arabs and made them refuse to be assimilated in any of the existing Arab entities.

 

A Palestinian state "with a flag and a passport," to use the popular term, means, in international law, a sovereign state, even if its sovereignty is not absolute. Everyone realizes that a Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip can only be established through concessions by all the parties concerned, including the Palestinians. It is clear that the state will be bound by pacts, undertakings and guarantees (indeed, it will seek guarantees for itself), all of which detract from absolute sovereignty. By virtue of its geographical and political situation, the state will have to establish some kind of permanent relationship with the state and people of Jordan, two thirds of whose inhabitants are Palestinians. It may also establish such relations with Syria and Egypt. The fundamental needs of the Palestinian people, however, impose a limit on the concessions that can be made. For example, it would not be possible to accept terms that might lead to the state being turned either into an Israeli colony or into the province of another Arab country, and to its economy being linked to others and its development subject to their wishes. Therefore it is impossible, for example, to accept the principle of open frontiers between the Palestinian state and Israel, because the whole point of the state is that it should solve the problems (including the economic problems) of the Palestinians. This cannot be done if the state is prohibited from taking the measures, including economic protection if necessary, to develop its own economy and provide opportunities for its high level manpower. No Palestinian state can experience meaningful economic development if it is simply to be a market for Israeli goods or a human reservoir of cheap labour for Israel. The Palestinians are under no obligation to support the economy of a society that consumes more than it produces and insists on an artificially high standard of living, and that has to be maintained by charity.

 

Nor is it possible for the Palestinians to accept dictation as regards what sort of government is established in their state. One thing is certain: the system will be a democratic one. In the past the lack of democratic methods and the attempts of Palestinian leaderships to force their views on others caused many difficulties for the Palestinians, the most painful being the Palestinian civil war that followed the ending of the 1936-1939 Revolt. The Palestinians have not forgotten these lessons. The PLO and all the organizations, federations and associations under its aegis are essentially volunteer organizations, and they cannot recruit or retain their manpower by force. One observes among them a feeling of profound contempt for, and a yearning to be rid of the petty-minded intelligence officers so common in some Arab regimes, and for the practices of the arrogant Israeli military rulers who control the lives of large numbers of Palestinians. For these and other reasons the structure and activities of the PLO now have an unmistakably democratic character. There is a tendency to take decisions by consensus or persuasion; only when this proves impossible is voting resorted to. The PLO has always rejected the advice offered by certain Arab quarters to the effect that the freedom of such and such a group should be restricted; often it has even defended the rights of a small group that has been threatened by Arab governments because of its political attitudes, even if these attitudes were opposed to the declared official policy of the PLO.

 

There is another point that requires clarification. The Palestinians may, in certain circumstances, be ready to seek a settlement in the area to which Israel is a party. But they are not prepared to conclude an agreement recognizing the legitimacy of Zionism; no Palestinian Arab can ever accept as legitimate a doctrine that he should be excluded from most parts of his homeland, because he is a Christian or Muslim Arab, while anyone of the Jewish faith anywhere in the world is entitled to settle there. Realism may require recognition of the existence of a Jewish state in Palestine and that this fact be taken into account in seeking a settlement. But this can never mean approving the expansionist and exclusivist tendencies of Zionism.

 

In evaluations of the Arab-Israeli conflict, the sufferings of the Jews in the West are often cited in support of the State of Israel. But it cannot be emphasized too strongly that the Palestinians were not responsible for the insecurities created among Jews by living conditions in the Pale of Settlement under the Russian Tsars. Nor are they responsible for the rise of anti- Semitism in Europe, the Nazi persecution of the Jews, or the ghetto mentality. All these are the results of Western civilization; only a colonialist mentality contemptuous of the rights of non-Western peoples could consider it legitimate to deprive the Palestinian Arabs of their right to statehood and self-determination in order to solve this problem. For, whatever is said about the "positive" side of Zionism, this is the side that has produced benefits only for the Israelis. To the Palestinian Arabs, Zionism has simply been the movement that occupied their country and expelled them from it. It has had no other significant relationship with the Palestinians.

 

Just as the Palestinians cannot stand idly by when attempts are made to reach a settlement that ignores them, neither can they allow others, whoever they may be, to claim the right to represent them or to act on their behalf. The Palestinians have had quite enough of being represented by others; in the two decades from the mid-forties to the mid-sixties, when the Palestine problem was in the hands of the Arab League, it was shelved for all practical purposes and the only result was further tragedies and disappointments. Now the Palestinians have their own Liberation Organization, established by great effort and hardship and in difficult circumstances, which is recognized as their legitimate representative by the United Nations and the majority of the countries in the world-indeed, by more than twice as many as recognize Israel.

 

ISRAEL AND THE PALESTINIANS

 

The Palestinian attitude has changed, while the attitude of the Arabs has clearly become more moderate; yet the Israeli attitude has remained conspicuously inflexible. Israel insists on retaining or annexing occupied areas, at the same time demanding that the Arabs make peace with her on her terms.

 

Israel's inflexibility is most obvious where the Palestinians are concerned. In this respect there is not much to choose between the former Labour governments and the present Likud one. In their attitude to the Palestinians in general, and the occupied areas of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in particular, the disagreement is mainly over what tactics should be employed to safeguard Israeli interests with a minimum of Arab and international problems. The recent Likud proposal for a "functional" arrangement in the West Bank - a form of creeping annexation - is close to the framework of the policy of the Labour governments.

 

The Israeli attitude to the Palestinians rests on two basic assumptions. The first is that the occupied areas must be kept or, at least, that Israeli control over them must be maintained. The second is refusal to recognize the national rights of the Palestinians. As regards the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, Israel clearly declared at the end of the 1967 war that she had no intention of withdrawing her forces from these areas. She refrained from annexing them (apart from Jerusalem) to avoid international and Arab complications, as well as the problem of increasing the non-Jewish population of Israel. The most persistent plan for the territories was the "Allon Plan," which held that military control over the areas must be maintained by the establishment of a series of military fortresses and strongholds and Jewish settlements along the frontier with the River Jordan - "Israel's security frontier. " The land of the West Bank would go to Israel, but the populated Arab areas should be linked to Jordan, which, it was assumed, would be happy to play the role of policing them. Meanwhile, Israel continues to perpetuate an economic system in which the Palestinians in Israel and the occupied areas are transformed into a subproletariat: servants and workers in jobs which no Israeli would ever accept at such low wages. At the same time, the West Bank is being turned into a market for Israeli goods - a situation which the Israelis wish to preserve through "open borders" as part of any peace settlement.

 

The Israeli attitude as regards the existence of the people of Palestine and recognition of their national rights is older and even more inflexible. Its origins lie in the various Zionist theories to the effect that Palestine -or rather the "Land of Israel" - is the "property" of all Jews, whether they live in it or outside it, and that the Arabs are "merely dwellers in the Land of Israel" who lose their right to live in it when they leave it. The Zionists try to avoid even the use of the word "Palestinians," who have always been referred to as the "Arabs of the Land of Israel. " The only change to take place in this attitude was after the October 1973 war, when the ruling Israeli Labour Party was obliged to state, in its electoral programme, that a solution would have to be found for the problem of the "Palestinian identity." This solution, however, would have to be reached within the framework of negotiations with Jordan, without recognition of any Palestinian quarter whatsoever.

 

This anti-Palestinian Israeli attitude is not merely emotional or theoretical; it has extremely practical implications. To recognize the existence of a Palestinian people with national rights and legitimate representatives could lead to old files being reopened and the Palestine problem being raised from its earliest origins. There is nothing to guarantee that the representatives of the Palestinians, once they were recognized as such, would not bring up the problem in all its aspects including, for example, the right of the Palestinian refugees to return or to receive compensation. Israel certainly does not want anything of this kind, and is doing all she can to bury the subject as deeply as possible. Begin does not even bother to discuss it and talks with distaste of a "so-called Palestinian state," and the "organization of killers called the PLO." (It is strange indeed to hear Israel talking of an "organization of killers" when the Speaker of the Knesset is Yitzhak Shamir, formerly one of the three men who led the murderous Lehi organization, and when the Prime Minister, Menahem Begin himself, was the leader of the super-terrorist Irgun. Both organizations have a record of massacres perpetrated on Palestinian civilians, like Deir Yassin, etc.)

 

In the light of the above it seems unlikely that Israel will ever recognize any Palestinian organization, including - or especially - the PLO. Recognition, like marriage, must be mutual, and because Israel is not prepared to recognize the Palestinians she does not want them to recognize her, whatever their capacity or character. For some time now the Israeli authorities have even stopped demanding in their statements that the PLO should recognize Israel; all they say is that they will have no dealings with it. Some Israeli leaders have asserted to the leaders of foreign countries that Israel was wrong ever to demand recognition by the PLO; she does not want such recognition and is not seeking it, and under no circumstances will she recognize the PLO, even if it recognizes her.

 

THE PERILS OF PEACE

 

Both the government and the people of Israel realize that such attitudes will never bring them any closer to peace. They are unacceptable to the Arabs and the Palestinians, and, indeed, there is not a single country of any importance in the world that approves of them. What, then, are the motives for these attitudes? What are the Israelis betting on?

 

The factors that nourish and sustain these Israeli attitudes are many and varied, and deeply rooted in historical experience. Before examining some of them, it must be pointed out that the successes of Israel since its creation, and the Israeli view of the future and the hopes pinned on it, tend to make the Israelis inflexible and unrealistic, just as similar experiences have tended to make the Palestinians moderate and pragmatic.

 

The first, and perhaps most important of the factors, is that the Zionist movement has never suffered as a result of crises, whether these were pogroms in Russia, the Nazi persecution, or wars in the Middle East; on the contrary, each of these helped to further Zionist aims, either of obtaining immigrants for Palestine or expanding territorial control. In the course of their long experience of conflict with the Palestinians and the Arabs, the Israelis have always taken risks - and won. They entered Palestine, gradually got some control of the land, and then created the circumstances that enabled them to expel its Palestinian owners. Not many decades ago, few could have conceived that Zionism would achieve what it has obtained. The Zionists faced great problems, and solved these in their favour (though often the Arabs helped to solve them by their rigidity and unrealism). This being the case, the Zionists probably feel that current problems will be solved just as previous ones were; a strong Zionist stand will maintain the status quo, and the occupied areas will remain under Israeli control.

 

It is clear that the crucial connection which Israel is relying on is that with the United States. It depends on continued US financial and military aid, and hopes that American Zionists will be capable of restraining the US government from any policy that diverges greatly from that of Israel.

 

The memory of the great Israeli victory in the 1967 war is still highly influential in Israel. The arrogance and unrealism of the victory were reflected in a feeling that Israel can achieve anything it wishes (as the Israeli joke ran: "It is a good thing that the Israeli army did not occupy China: what would we have done with 700 million refugees ?") . The October War did little to change this basic outlook: its initial reversals for Israel are regarded as a "shortcoming," easily correctible in the next war.

 

The problem is compounded by the fact that there is no leadership capable of taking difficult or fateful decisions. With Ben Gurion's retirement from politics the line of the visionary historical Zionist leaders came to an end. Those who followed were colourless. The most prominent characteristic of Eshkol, for example, was his hesitance. Golda Meir "the best example of the success of failure" as she has been described - was not remarkable for the breadth of her horizons or for her profound grasp of local affairs. Rabin and Peres, if one examines their records, had very little vision to contribute to the area. Menahem Begin lives in a remote world of his own. Wearing the cap (kiPah) of the religious Jews, reciting verses from the Torah, and making speeches about Nazism, the bombardment of Warsaw and "historic rights" whenever he is confronted by a difficult situation, are not simply the tactics of an election-seeking politician; they are the quintessential Begin. What he would like, obviously, is a return to the good old days when there was no international detente, and the cold war and the arms race were at their height, so that the Israel of Likud could play a greater role in combating "international communism" and reap the benefits arising therefrom. His mind has developed very little since his organization, the Irgun, was dissolved in 1948.

 

These Israeli leaders are certainly not Herzl, Sokolov, Weizmann or Ben Gurion; for them the easiest way to confront problems is to run away from them to the world of unreality.

 

There is also a gradual trend towards extremism in Israeli attitudes in all classes of Israeli society. The right, in all its forms, is gaining greater influence over the Israeli information media, private and public. This situation has also been influenced by the chauvinistic outlook of religious education and its emphasis on the "uniqueness" of the Jews and their "absolute rights," which is gradually coming to dominate the Israeli educational system (basically for reasons connected with the coalition government). The prospect is that of future generations of Israelis influenced by this view, each one more extremist than the last.

 

When one adds to these the feeling of fear and lack of confidence in the Arabs (a feeling which, of course, is reciprocal) and a realization that any settlement will lead to concessions and withdrawals and the settlement of issues which the Israelis have always dreamed they would never have to settle, it is easy to come to the conclusion that there is no real desire in Israel for a realistic political settlement that could lead to lasting stability or peace. In this connection, one should also note the fear that in a state of peace, the economic and military aid received by Israel, which has greatly increased in times of tension, might dry up. A bad economic situation, coupled with the great social tension between Israelis of Ashkenazi and Sephardic backgrounds, would pose a very serious challenge to the cohesiveness of Israel. In the end there might even, in a state of peace, be increasing emigration, part of it to the Arab world, if only with a view to making a living.

 

MUTUAL NON-RECOGNITION

 

The Israeli attitudes and fears we have been examining are best expressed in Israel's refusal to recognize the Palestinians. This refusal is in itself one of the reasons for the indifference affected by the PLO or its spokesmen when they are asked their attitude to recognizing Israel. "Why bother to talk about recognition of a party that is not prepared to recognize even your existence, let alone your rights? When the Israeli attitude changes, we shall see."

 

Just as there are motives for the Israeli refusal, so there are many justifications and reasons for the Palestinian refusal. To ask the Palestinians to recognize Israel in advance when she is still occupying all their territory would mean that the Palestinians were throwing away their main card without any corresponding concession. Israel has not offered to do anything in return for recognition by the Palestinians, for she does really not want such recognition at all. The Palestinians believe, as d-o the Arabs, that recognition is the end, not the beginning, of a process. It should be the culmination of, not the prelude to, efforts to reach a political solution, in view of the difficulty in reaching it and the mutual suspicions between the parties in this regard. On at least two previous occasions when the Palestinians or the Arabs have "recognized" or responded to the demands of the Zionist movement or of Israel in return for promises made to them, their recognition has been subsequently treated as an unconditional promise, while the corresponding obligations of the Zionists have been forgotten. At the beginning of 1919 during the peace conference after World War I, the Amir Faisal, son of the Sharif Hussein of Mecca, was induced, as the representative of the Arabs at that conference, to sign an agreement with Dr. Weizmann in which he welcomed the return of his Jewish "cousins" to Palestine and made major concessions to Zionism in return for promises to help the Arabs to obtain their independence in the countries of the Eastern Arab world. The result was that the Zionists used the document to secure the Conference's endorsement of the decision to establish a national home for the Jews in Palestine, and then went back on their other commitments, so that the Eastern Arab countries were divided up into spheres of influence between Britain and France and subjected to their mandates. Thirty years later, in the first half of 1949, Israel applied for admission to the United Nations, accompanying her applications with commitments and undertakings to implement previous United Nations resolutions on the rights of the Palestinians, including the right of the refugees to return to their homes, and it was on this basis that the matter was put to the vote and Israel was admitted. (The Arab governments had meanwhile also accepted to negotiate a settlement on the basis of the UN resolutions, including that of partition.) But no sooner was Israel admitted than all the Israeli undertakings went by the board. The Palestinians have their own reasons for being even more suspicious of external promises. To take one example only: From the adoption of partition in 1947 until today, the United Nations and its various agencies have adopted dozens of resolutions supporting the Palestinians, including the famous one, supported regularly by the United States, supporting the right of Palestinian refugees to return; but none of them have been implemented. Therefore the Palestinian attitude to the question of recognition is one of not advancing a hairsbreadth towards recognition without a clear and firmly guaranteed political quid pro quo.

 

The Palestinian attitude to recognition is accepted by most of the countries of the world, including the dozens of them that have diplomatic relations with the PLO (some of whom also have relations with Israel) . Most of them have expressed their understanding of this attitude and the reasons for it, or at least they have followed a middle course and called on both sides, Palestinians and Israelis, to recognize each other. One country alone has stood apart from this attitude - the US. It is true that, judging by the public statements of different American officials, the American attitude has recently changed for the better. During the first months of the Carter administration the Palestinians have heard expositions of American attitudes, and positive statements and declarations, such as they never heard from any previous administration. But if one takes these statements and declarations as expressing the essence of the American attitude, one must note that they are somewhat ambiguous, or at least laden with preconditions of the kind not usually imposed on parties to peace negotiations. At one time, for instance, the demand was made that the Palestinian National Charter must be amended or rescinded. For reasons mentioned, in the current situation, it is difficult to amend the Charter, which was drawn up by the old Palestinian leadership, who made its amendment dependent on the approval of two-thirds of the members of the National Council - a majority which is not easy to get.- But the Charter, as noted, has been tacitly amended more than once, and attempts are still being made to amend it.

 

One must observe a double standard being practiced here by the US, which never demanded, for example, that Mr. Begin's party, Herut, should change its flag or its slogan. The flag of the party consists of a map of Palestine and Trans-Jordan in the days of the mandate, on which is super-imposed a drawing of a rifle, under which are the words "Rak Kach" (only thus). The party's slogan is a line from a poem by Jabotinski: "Two banks of the Jordan - this is ours and so is that."

 

The latest American move in this connection has been to call on the PLO to recognize Security Council resolution 242 so that it may become a party to the efforts to find a political settlement. The basis of the demand for recognition of resolution 242, apart from the fact that this resolution forms the framework for the Geneva Conference, is to be found in the second document of the protocols signed by Kissinger with Israel after the conclusion of the second Sinai Agreement in the autumn of 1975. Article 2 of this document stipulates that "the US shall continue to abide by its present policy vis-a-vis the PLO - that is to say it will not recognize or negotiate with the PLO - so long as the PLO does not recognize Israel's right to exist and does not accept Security Council resolutions 242 and 338...". Resolution 242 calls, among other things, for "recognition of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of all states in the area. " (The Palestinians are not, of course, a state.) It then goes on to call for "a just settlement of the refugee problem," without even specifying that "Palestinian refugees" are involved. What it amounts to is that the PLO is being asked to recognize the other states in the area, and also to recognize that the Palestinians are refugees, without national rights. It is not enough to argue that the PLO, like any other party, can make its own "interpretation" of resolution 242; the Israelis, for that matter, could make a wholly opposite "counter-interpretation. " If progress to a settlement is not to be blocked by incompatible negotiating stands, this requires specific acknowledgement of the Palestinian national rights, including their right to self-determination.

 

There are other, more complicated problems. First, PLO acceptance of resolution 242 would not necessarily lead to its participating in the Geneva Conference, even if the Americans want it to, for Israel also has something to say on the subject. The last clause of article 2 of the above document says that "it is understood that participation by any additional state, group or organization [note the detail] in a subsequent stage of the [Geneva] Conference shall require the approval of all the original participants. " Israel is an original participant in the Conference and may refuse to allow the PLO to participate in it.

 

Palestinian recognition of Israel is a valuable and important card that will not be thrown away: it can only be played in the context of a definite and guaranteed solution for the Palestine problem; that is, the establishment of the Palestinian state, followed by the solution of the problem of the refugees living inside and outside that state.

 

The demand for advance recognition as a precondition for attending peace negotiations is unusual in international affairs; recognition is the kind of issue that such negotiations are usually about. The US and China, for instance, still do not recognize each other and any attempt to impose such a recognition in advance might have aborted such progress in relations as has been made between them.

 

What are the likely repercussions, if the insistence on advance recognition without corresponding concessions is maintained? The Palestinians believe that if they withhold recognition from Israel in advance, the Arabs will automatically do the same, so that the Arab-Israeli conflict will be kept alive and along with it the pressures it gives rise to at the local and international levels, until such time as the Palestine problem is solved, i. e., until such time as Israel and her supporters are obliged to agree to a just solution of it. The Palestinians on their own are not strong enough to confront Israel and her supporters, but the situation is different when they are joined by the forces of the Arabs and their other supporters throughout the world.

 

The Arab governments have an inescapable commitment to the achievement of Palestinian national rights. Indeed, the very legitimacy of their rule may depend upon their ability to solve the problem satisfactorily. Arab regimes are no doubt made all the more aware of the impossibility of evading the issue by the fate of the governments responsible for the 1949 armistice agreements, which were not followed by a just peaceful settlement; King Farouk of Egypt was deposed, Abdullah of Jordan was assassinated and Syria entered an era of military coups.

 

In short, by persisting in its refusal to grant advance recognition to Israel, the PLO is acting on the basis that the Arab world cannot accept any political settlement of the Middle East crisis that does not comply with the rights of the Palestinians. It is not prepared to relinquish the right of veto accorded to it by the Arab world until a just solution of the Palestine problem is reached. The underlying "philosophy" of this attitude is that in no circumstances is it permissible to permit a settlement in the Middle East that safeguards the interests of anyone at all, unless it also, and to the same extent, safeguards the interests of the Palestinians. The PLO believes that its attitude is sensible and realistic, inasmuch as it does not ultimately ask for itself or for the Palestinians more than others ask for themselves.

 

The PLO realizes that such an attitude angers those who are hostile to the Palestinian people and their aspirations. However, the PLO cannot acquiesce in ostrich-like policies that seek to deny its legitimacy and ignore the reality of Palestinian needs and its own strength. The PLO depends on the support of more than three million Palestinians, and of the tens of thousands of Palestinian activists who have devoted their lives to its service, and to that of its various civilian and military organizations. It is recognized by almost all Palestinians - as the 1976 municipal elections in the West Bank showed - as the organization that is working to achieve their rights and to solve their problems. In its struggle with Israel it has the moral sympathy of the Arab people, which ties the hands of any Arab ruler who might be tempted to ignore the Palestinian cause. It has an extensive and expanding network of international relations. If there was any possibility of the PLO vanishing, it would have vanished long ago, in view of the many hostile attempts that have been directed against it, and which have failed because of serious misassessments of its strength.

 

TOUGH MODERATION

 

At first glance the picture we have drawn may not seem to offer much hope of an early or easy political settlement in the Middle East; few people, indeed, believe it possible. The process of reaching a settlement is likely to be difficult, complicated and painful.

 

The Arabs and Palestinians have shown moderation - the Palestinians by agreeing to an independent Palestinian state in part of the territory of Palestine, instead of the whole of their homeland, which they previously demanded. The Arabs have accepted all provisions of Security Council resolution 242. Both parties have put themselves in a position where they are ready to start on the road to a settlement, even though neither of them is prepared to sign documents and treaties in advance, before they get anything in return.

 

In the context of these developments, one element of progress is so far lacking: Israel and her supporters must somehow be convinced that there are other parties to the Middle East conflict with legitimate aspirations and interests. Their policy should attempt to meet these, rather than circumvent them.

 

For many reasons the Israeli attitude will not change spontaneously and before it does change, there must be a change in the attitudes of the Western countries in general and the US in particular, in view of the special relations between the two parties. Here it may be as well to clarify some aspects of Arab and Palestinian views in this connection.

 

The "classical" Arab-Palestinian view of the relationship between the Zionist movement and Israel, and the West, is that this relationship has always been a close and organic one. It lasted a long time from the beginning of the twenties to the middle forties with Britain, throughout the fifties with France and since the middle sixties with the US. It is maintained that the basis of and the motives for this relationship, regardless of the "morals" and "principles" in terms of which it has been presented, are as follows: first Zionism, and then Israel, have needed the West's support to safeguard their existence in the area, while the West has needed them, along with certain local forces, to safeguard its influence and protect Western interests in the area. This is why some Arabs describe Israel as "the gendarme of Western imperialist interests in the area."

 

However, there has been another trend recently, although its adherents have been few, to the effect that it would be better to try to come to an understanding with the West. There are many reasons for the rise of this trend. Firstly, there is a growing conviction in many circles that to continue the conflict can only lead to the further exhaustion of Arab resources and to increasing losses by all parties. New classes have arisen which believe that the primary Arab aim should be to ensure the development of the Arab world through good international relations and cooperation. Then there is the Arabs' greater self-confidence in their ability to reach just solutions of their problems, in view of their increasing strength at all levels. These factors and others have led to the emergence of a trend to the effect that it is better to seek a solution of the Arab-Israeli conflict through peaceful means, and through understanding with others, and especially with the Western camp, headed by the US.

 

This Arab attitude is not as naive as it may appear. There is a readiness to follow the course of moderation and to try to solve problems by peaceful means and through understanding and cooperation with the other parties.

 

But there is also the basic assumption that, while being ready to follow such a course, the Arabs must systematically develop their strength so that it can be employed, should the need arise. The good intentions and sympathy of other parties alone cannot be relied on to make them respond to the Arab and Palestinian point of view. The West has, moreover, not generally shown much concern for the interests of the peoples or countries it has ruled or influenced, except when it has been obliged to do so in one way or another, such as when these peoples have exerted different kinds of pressure, including armed resistance.

 

The experience of the Palestinians with the West has been longer, more bitter and very disappointing. They have never been able to obtain understanding for their cause, and they have only attracted attention when they have resolutely resisted.

 

It is this long and always disappointing Palestinian experience that makes the Palestinians wary of changing their attitude beyond clearly defined limits, and reluctant to put all their eggs in one basket. Thus when, at its last session, the Palestine National Council called for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, at the same time it stressed the need to strengthen and reinforce the methods of struggle already employed and to consolidate and expand existing alliances. This trend probably also explains the decisions taken by the National Council in which it affirmed the "importance and necessity of national unity, both military and political, among all factions of the Palestinian revolution within the framework of the PLO," and "the necessity of strengthening the Arab Front for the Support of the Palestinian Revolution and of deepening cohesion with all participating Arab nationalist forces in all Arab states," and, similarly, the need "to intensify Arab struggle and solidarity on the basis of anti-imperialist, anti-Zionist struggle and of action for the liberation of all occupied Arab territories."

 

There is also another resolution which stresses "the necessity of consolidating cooperation and solidarity with the socialist countries, the non- aligned states, the Islamic states, the African states, and with all national liberation movements in the world." The forces covered by these resolutions include dozens of countries, hundreds of parties and associations and millions of people who sympathize with the Palestinians and who have in the past been generous in supplying them with support and aid.

 

To sum up, the moderation in the Palestinian attitude is a tough and cautious moderation. There is a real intention to find a solution of the Palestine problem but no intention to sell it out. There is readiness to cooperate with all parties concerned, but not to surrender. The attitude of the Arabs in general is not essentially different from that of the Palestinians. In the light of the various and conflicting trends and attitudes that we have examined, we come back to the same question: What are the prospects of a political settlement in the Middle East? The answer is that the chances are equal, although circumstances are more favourable than ever before for making a start on such an operation. In the case of the Arabs as a whole, there are many factors favourable to the achievement of a just settlement which they could accept or promote. Should such efforts fail, the Arabs hold important cards they can use in the process of reaching a settlement and whose effectiveness cannot be ignored by others. The world in general and the West in particular has vital interests that they cannot abandon or allow to be endangered, and it may be doubted whether these interests can be safeguarded if the Arab-Israeli conflict continues in its present explosive state. It may also be doubted whether it is any longer possible to maintain previous policies, and to protect these interests by force, while ignoring the rights of the Arabs and the Palestinians.

 

Sabri Jiryis heads the Israel section of the PLO Research Center in Beirut. A graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, he is the author of The Arabs in Israel, Democratic Freedoms in Israel and Part 1 of the Arabic work Tarikh al-Sabyuniya (A History of Zionism). 

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