Palestinians on the Peace Process
Peace Process

In November 1988, the Palestinian parliament-in-exile, the Palestine National Council (PNC), adopted at its Algiers meeting a series of bold and historic resolutions in which the Palestinians indicated for the first time and in a formal manner their acceptance of the principle of partition of the historic land of Palestine. At the same time they accepted, based on the principle of mutual recognition, Israel's right to exist in part of what they consider their own patrimony, renounced the use of political violence, and declared the establishment of their state in exile to be eventually concretized in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Fouad Moughrabi teaches political science at the University of Tennessee in Chattanooga.

Elia Zureik teaches sociology at Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada.

Manuel Hassassian teaches political science at Bethlehem University, West Bank.

Aziz Haider teaches sociology at Bir Zeit University, West Bank.

This paper forms the background to a larger study of images of peace sponsored by the Dreyfuss/James Productions in Los Angeles. 

Full text: 


In November 1988, the Palestinian parliament-in-exile, the Palestine National Council (PNC), adopted at its Algiers meeting a series of bold and historic resolutions in which the Palestinians indicated for the first time and in a formal manner their acceptance of the principle of partition of the historic land of Palestine. At the same time they accepted, based on the principle of mutual recognition, Israel's right to exist in part of what they consider their own patrimony, renounced the use of political violence, and declared the establishment of their state in exile to be eventually concretized in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Absent from this political vision was a detailed Palestinian conceptualization of how to bring it about. What kind of state do the Palestinians want to have? Will it be like the other Arab states in the region? Will it be democratic or authoritarian? Will it be secular or religious? What kind of economic system do the Palestinians have in mind? Is it likely to be a viable entity, or a ward of the international community? Will it be demilitarized, or will it insist on having a military force? What kinds of relations will it have with its neighbors, Israel and Jordan? Do the Palestinians expect to have this state at once, or following a period of transition? Will they use it as a launching pad for future irredentist claims against Israel? And finally, what will be the role of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) once the state is achieved? Many of these questions have been raised by Israelis and others concerned about the future of the region. These same questions are on the minds of most Palestinians. The Palestinian uprising (intifada) has entered its fourth year without showing any appreciable results. Especially after the Gulf war and the changes in the geopolitical situation in the region, the Palestinians are increasingly asking themselves concrete questions about how to end Israel's occupation of their lands and how to achieve their vision of independence and statehood.

What follows is an attempt to spell out the Palestinian vision of a settlement and how it can be achieved. This study is based in part on extensive personal interviews with over forty leading Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip [See Appendix for names.] conducted by three Palestinian social scientists during the months of May and June 1991. Among the interviewees were some whose names are mentioned in connection with possible negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. These interviews reflect the views of independent Palestinian men and women on the left, right, and center of the political spectrum. Various scenarios and analyses which were not salient during the course of the interviews and which were made by Palestinians in the occupied territories or others closely linked to the PLO will be included. The study will also draw upon points raised in four separate memoranda** presented to Secretary of State James Baker during his recent trips to the Middle East and meetings with Palestinian leaders in Jerusalem.

Procedural Issues

Current Palestinian thinking rests on a clear and unequivocal position calling for the need to develop a flexible strategy that rejects past tendencies to adopt the familiar all-or-nothing position. The "no" which the Palestinians have been known to choose with regard to negotiations with Israel and the restoration of their rights in Palestine has been affected by two important developments: (1) the PLO's acceptance in 1988 of a two-state solution and the relevant United Nations resolutions, and (2) the willingness of the Palestinians in the occupied territories to be part of a negotiating team whose task would be to implement a two-state solution.

By accepting this approach, the Palestinians are signalling their willingness to settle for substantially less than what was promised them in the 1947 UN Partition Plan for Palestine. They are also willing to settle for far less than is needed to accommodate the aspirations of the displaced and refugee Palestinians, whose number outside historic Palestine approximates 2.5 million people. This does not mean that there are not Palestinian groups that continue to aspire to the realization of a state in all of historic Palestine: "Rejectionist" groups on the right resort to religion to justify their platform, while those on the extreme left call for a binational secular state in all Palestine.

The Palestinian maximalist position mirrors a similar Israeli position, manifested in the religious-fundamentalist and secular right which denies the Palestinians any national rights and whose resonance with the current Likud- led government is gaining strength. But the rejectionist Palestinian position differs in one important respect from its Israeli counterpart, in that it is located on the margins of the Palestinian political spectrum, while Israeli rejectionism incorporates government policies in substance if not in form. The expansionist aims of the Israeli right continue to be sanctioned by official Israeli policy through unabated land confiscations, denial of access to water resources, and continued repression of the Palestinians.

Nonetheless, the interviews with Palestinian activists spanning right and left show that after all is said and done, the centrist Palestinian position will win the day, assuming, of course, that there are tangible results that can be presented to the Palestinian population.

As these interviews were being conducted and the results analyzed, the situation on the ground was changing. It appears now that if the Palestinians were to agree to take part in the U.S.-sponsored negotiations, they would have to do so on Israel's terms, as U.S. Secretary of State James Baker has made abundantly clear. Thomas Friedman, who often reflects Baker's thinking, puts it this way in the New York Times (28 July 1991): "The Palestinians have not only been vanquished by the Israelis; they managed to come out losers in the gulf war as well . . . Yet they have been refusing to accept the diplomatic consequence, which is that they can only come to the peace conference on Israeli terms: as part of a joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation, with no representatives from East Jerusalem or the Palestinian diaspora." If some kind of agreement is reached, it will definitely not reflect the aspirations of the Palestinian people, since what is being offered them at the moment is nothing more than limited autonomy under Israeli jurisdiction.

Our analysis of the interviews shows the extent to which Palestinians are willing to accommodate the changing realities in a flexible and innovative manner. They do not accept Secretary Baker's or Thomas Friedman's conclusions, which amount to asking them to capitulate to Israel's diktat. In- stead, they offer a vision of peace based on coexistence. In doing so, they realize that, though they are the weaker party to the conflict, their power does not derive from guns but from the morality of their case, the fact of their presence on their own land, and their refusal to go away.

The Palestinian Vision of Statehood

An independent and sovereign state is the ultimate political objective of the Palestinians. They hope that it will be secular and democratic, based on universal suffrage, free elections, a multiparty system, and basic guarantees of civil and human rights. One Palestinian respondent articulates this vision in the following manner:

The establishment of a Palestinian state is the ultimate objective of Palestinian struggle. The state will come about in a gradual and incremental manner, not overnight. Because of their suffering and their persecution by the Israeli occupation authorities, the Palestinians will insist that this state be truly democratic-based on a multiparty system, free elections, and basic freedoms. These are not mere wishes; they constitute the absolute minimum for the establishment of a viable state.

Preference for democratic practices by no means conceals the fear expressed by some respondents that the Arab world has yet to resolve the question of legitimate political succession. Tribalism and authoritarianism remain well entrenched. Added to this is a new and worrisome phenomenon that is likely to have dire consequences for the future if not tackled in a constructive manner. This is the seemingly unrestrained power of Palestinian youth and their use of violence. Many respondents were concerned that a continuation of the status quo may strengthen violent tendencies among increasingly desperate Palestinian groups. The likelihood of violence notwithstanding, it was felt unlikely that a genuine peace process could be scuttled by any one or a collection of groups. If negotiations produce tangible results, the majority of Palestinians is likely to support them, thereby neutralizing opposition from extremist fringe groups.

Nowhere in the interviews was any feeling expressed that in the long-run the Palestine question could be settled through a non-state solution. Palestinian political discourse expressed throughout the interviews hovers between the possibility of the continuation of the status quo (deemed totally unacceptable) and the eventual achievement of independent statehood. Assuming that a political settlement involving Palestinian sovereignty and independence can be reached, the most urgent preoccupation for the respondents lies not in the security realm (as is the case with the Israelis) but in the realm of economics. In order to survive, the new Palestinian state will have to establish a whole range of economic and political relations with its immediate neighbors (Israel and Jordan) as well as with Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Iraq, and the Gulf countries.

It is highly unlikely that the present leadership of the Palestinians would agree to the limited autonomy suggested by the Likud. This obviously means that if and when the Baker initiative reaches its expected dead end, the status quo will continue. With increasing settlement activity and the influx of Soviet Jews, the pressure on the Palestinians will become even more intense and may lead to renewed acts of intercommunal violence. The memoranda submitted to Mr. Baker express the sense of urgency, anguish, and anger "of the Palestinian people who are daily witnessing Israel's deliberate and persistent theft of their lands, livelihood, and the very core of their being." The 26 April 1991 memorandum has a more ominous tone: "if, at the behest of the PLO, we are able to meet with you now, the time is rapidly approaching in which no Palestinian from the occupied territories will be able to afford the luxury of talking peace while Israel is actively waging war against the Palestinian nation in captivity."

The Palestinian respondents uniformly condemn the notion of maintaining a state of permanent dependency on aid from foreign sources. Self-help and sufficiency appear to be the prime economic objectives. There were frequent references by many respondents to the experience of the intifada, where an alternative economy was attempted and where great emphasis was placed on teaching people to become self-reliant. At the same time, there is wide acceptance of the notion that outside help will be necessary. Many respondents mentioned the desirability of something akin to a Marshall Plan for the region involving the rich Arab countries, the U.S., Europe, and Japan. Economic assistance will be necessary to establish the economic infrastructure of the new state (something deliberately ignored during the years of the Israeli occupation) and to absorb the refugees who wish to return. An initial infusion of one billion dollars a year in aid for the first five years is a minimum needed to help the fledgling state cope with its pressing problems. In the long-run, however, relations with Jordan and Israel (deemed desirable by a majority of respondents) need to be predicated on the principles of equality and reciprocity.

In some areas, joint enterprises need to be established. Palestinian and Israeli academics could work on joint projects that would benefit their respective communities. An independent authority consisting of Palestinians, Israelis, and Jordanians could be set up to examine water resources and use patterns, and to determine equitable allocations. Though mentioned in several interviews, it is unlikely that a Benelux-like arrangement is feasible in the short term. Such an arrangement may become highly desirable in the next few years, once the Palestinian economy has had time to mature and to develop its own identity. In response to the question "how do you envision the economic structure of the Palestinian state," one respondent had this to say:

It is important to find ways to seek aid from the Arab world, from Europe, the U.S., and Japan without becoming too dependent on anyone. We have to adopt a pattern of non-confrontational politics and find ways of coexisting with our neighbors. I do not wish to label the kinds of agreements that might emerge; they could involve confederal arrangements, more or less.

Most respondents prefer a mixed economy that invests heavily in manpower development and pays close attention to agriculture, small manufacturing, technological development, and tourism. Nearly all insist on economic policies benefitting the entire community and based on social justice. It is interesting to note that some of the interviewees ruled out the need for a large military, arguing that money should be spent to rehabilitate the human factor in the new state. It is conceivable that the new state of Palestine may be able to set a new trend in the Middle East by becoming truly non-militarized.

The pragmatic ideas suggested by the respondents are part of a flurry of proposals by various Palestinians and others who have tried to sketch out in detail working positions and scenarios for a settlement. A rather interesting way of combining economic and political factors is offered by Mohammed Rabie, a Palestinian who resides in Washington, D.C. and maintains links with the PLO. Rabie's suggestion, similar in its essence to that outlined by Gideon Gottlieb in the Fall 1989 issue of Foreign Affairs, tries to accommodate the Palestinians' yearning to return to their homes and their attachment to all of Palestine with the yearning of some Israelis to continue to live anywhere in the historic land of Palestine. Under the proposal, the land of Mandate Palestine would be designated as a geographic entity hosting two separate states, one Israeli and one Palestinian, in the context of one homeland shared by the two peoples. Both Israelis and Palestinians would actualize their political identity in their respective political entities; but they could choose to reside and work in the other's area. For example, an Israeli engineer from Haifa whose expertise is needed in Gaza might choose to reside and work there. Similarly, a Palestinian computer expert from Jericho might choose to live and work in Tel Aviv. Both would vote in their own respective communities and maintain their political identity as Israeli and Palestinian. Adopting such a solution would render national borders obsolete and eliminate impediments to trade and travel. However, a key problem with Rabie's as well as Gottlieb's proposal, however, is that it ignores the fate of the Palestinians in Israel itself. One can assume that they will continue to reside in their current locales and maintain their right to participate in Israeli politics, yet identify with the new state as a possible refuge in times of crisis, or even be allowed to hold dual citizenship-Palestinian and Israeli.

Rabie also suggests the creation of a Middle East Economic Community that would serve as a "vehicle to facilitate regional cooperation, enlarge the potential export markets of all states, consolidate a rich and fragmented economic base, and lead ultimately to economic integration and the creation of a common market." In addition, he recommends the creation of a Middle East Conference on Security and Cooperation modeled after the European conference and whose task would be to "share and develop the region's water re- sources, settle border disputes among its members, end the arms race and reduce military spending, and address questions of the rights of minorities and ethnic groups."

Inevitably, the Palestinian vision of a settlement is influenced by the transformations in the world situation. The European model of economic integration is seen as a possible option, as is the European model of Security and Cooperation. What this indicates, and what the interviews amply illustrate, is the desire to bypass the political and ideological questions that separate people in order to tiy to meet the more pressing needs of economic survival and basic subsistence. In this sense, it is interesting to see how the new Palestinian discourse, in being future-oriented, seems to be consonant with the transformations now under way in Eastern Europe and in the Soviet Union. If one may extrapolate from our observations so far, it is that there is a golden opportunity here to innovate in nation-building so as to circumvent the obsolescence of the nineteenth-century model of the nation-state which is proving too cumbersome in meeting the aspirations of sub-national groups in the latter part of the twentieth century.

All respondents are aware of the difficulties of resolving the conflict under the present circumstances. The memoranda submitted to Secretary of State James Baker emphasize Israel's continuing policy of confiscating land and establishing new settlements as well as its imposition of "unacceptable conditions and constraints on the peace process." Yet nearly all respondents assume that a political settlement with Israel is possible in the long run. They also assume that if Israel wants to be integrated as one of the states in the region and benefit from the new openness, an equitable resolution of the Palestine problem is necessary. As one respondent puts it: "It is difficult for Israel to continue to live in this region (the Near East) while belonging to another region (Europe). Israel will eventually become a Middle Eastern state by agreeing to coexist in the region." Only one of the respondents, a fundamentalist spokesperson, suggested that Israel may not want to be integrated in the region as one of many states, but rather as the dominant one, a kind of Middle Eastern Prussia. On the other hand, none of the interviewees raised the possibility that Israel may not have to make territorial concessions in the occupied territories to be accepted in the region. The Palestinian vision is therefore predicated on some basic assumptions that may not be quite realistic. Palestinians may be overlooking, for example, the fact that Israel could continue its defacto annexation of the occupied territories and even feel it is in a position to incorporate them by virtue of what may be interpreted as weakened Arab support for the Palestinians, a marginalization of the PLO in Arab politics, and a localization of the Palestine question to an ethnic rather than a national question.

Respondents were asked to comment on the likelihood of Israel adopting a population transfer policy that would lead to mass expulsions of Palestinians across the Jordan River. Some felt that Israel could do this outright in the event of another war in the region. Already the Israeli press regularly talks about the next war with Syria. A more credible scenario, however, was felt to be one where the expulsion of Palestinians from the occupied territories would be done gradually as a result of Israel's punitive economic measures and its continued demographic strangulation of the Arabs through a stepped- up settlement program.

Some of the respondents argue that the Palestinians still have a kind of negative power, meaning an ability to destabilize the region. Furthermore, they believe that weak and illegitimate Arab governments will still seek to recapture some legitimacy by supporting the cause of the Palestinians, even if they are critical of the PLO. In fact, a number of interviewees suggested that some of the transformations that may occur in the region in the aftermath of the Gulf war may relaunch the Palestine question in a totally different and perhaps even more urgent manner.

The new Palestinian discourse used to articulate a vision of a settlement differs radically from the previous discourse associated with the rise of the Palestine resistance movement in the 1960s. The previous discourse reflected the experience of national dismemberment and the tribulations of exile in a difficult Arab environment undergoing political and social change. The new discourse reflects the experience of the Israeli occupation and the fact that nearly a half million out of a total population of 1.5 million Palestinians in the territories have served some time in Israeli jails. There is a significant generational difference that makes the new Palestinians what Karl Mannheim called a "generation in itself," able to learn from history and to imprint its own style on the present. The new brand of activists is highly educated (usually in the West) and better able to articulate ideas more understandable to the West and more consistent with modern values. They tend to be less ideological than the earlier generation of activists, more pragmatic, and more willing to accommodate themselves to new realities. Their language is devoid of rhetoric and cliches. None of the interviews revealed any use of the old rhetoric generally associated with the literature of resistance. Indeed there are frequent references in respondents' comments to the need to discard the old rhetoric, to define realizable objectives, and to identify clear and helpful mechanisms to accomplish them. The previous discourse relied upon a logic of daring and confrontation. With few exceptions (such as certain Islamist and extreme leftist groups), the new discourse relies more on a logic of accommodation and caution.

Another no less important change has resulted in the shift of the Palestinian movement's center of gravity from the outside (the diaspora) to the inside (those under occupation). The latter now set the tone and define the issues, without abandoning the crucial political position that the PLO (which most think badly needs reform) is the political representative of the Palestinian people. At the same time, the locus of control has shifted from the outside (reliance on foreign powers or the UN) to the inside (in favor of self- reliance).

The lessons of the past four decades or so-indeed, the lessons of this century marked by conquest, occupation, and colonization-have taught the Palestinians that unless democratic practices are implemented "at every level of daily life-in the home, in schools, offices, and factories" in the words of one respondent, the new state of Palestine will emerge as a replica of the surrounding authoritarian Arab regimes. One response is typical of most interviews: "The Palestinians must not accept a state like the other Arab states or even one run along the same lines as the PLO." A large number of the interviewees, including proponents of the fundamentalist wing of Palestinian politics, considered political pluralism and freedom to be basic ingredients of the future Palestinian polity. Hence a multiparty system is upheld as the most desirable model. Moreover, respondents from across the political spectrum, even those expressing deep suspicion of any negotiation with Israel, believed that the Palestinians would abide by the wishes of the majority regarding the outcome of negotiations.

What will happen to the PLO once Palestinian statehood is achieved in the West Bank and Gaza Strip? Most respondents believe that the PLO, like any other revolutionary movement, will divest its authority in its present form with the creation of a state. They further indicated their expectation that the organization, given its many currents, will form the nucleus of the multiparty system that will come to reflect the political culture of the new state.

Realizing the Vision

There was virtual unanimity among the respondents that the Palestinians are ready to negotiate with Israel a peaceful resolution on the basis of UN resolutions 242 and 338, as well as other relevant UN resolutions. In the March memorandum submitted to Secretary of State James Baker, the Palestinians expressed this readiness in the following manner:

We confirm our commitment to the Palestinian peace initiative and political program as articulated in the 19th PNC of November 1988, and maintain our resolve to pursue a just political settlement of the Palestinian- Israeli conflict on that basis. Our objective remains to establish the independent Palestinian state on the national soil of Palestine, next to the state of Israel and within the framework of the two-state solution.

The Palestinians base their case on what they call "international legitimacy," meaning the rule of international law, respect for the national rights of people to self-determination, and the "will of the international community" as expressed in various UN resolutions and statements by various countries. Again in the March document, they declare that "the peace process must be advanced with the momentum generated by the will of the international community, and not made subject to Israeli concurrence and rejection."

The interviewees reject all attempts to divide Palestinians into those on the inside and those on the outside, as well as attempts to determine for them who shall represent them. Attempts to bypass the PLO are seen as part of an American-Israeli strategy to avoid dealing with the national rights of the Palestinians to self-determination and statehood in order to impose on them a limited autonomy under Israeli jurisdiction. The March document clearly spells out a theme which is endorsed by all respondents in the interviews. In fact, all four documents presented to Mr. Baker place special emphasis on it:

The PLO is our sole legitimate leadership and interlocutors, embodying the national identity and expressing the will of the Palestinian people every- where. As such, it is empowered to represents us in all political negotiations and endeavors, having the democratic legitimacy of a popular base, and enjoying the overwhelming support of its constituency. The Palestinian people alone have the right to choose their leadership and will not tolerate any attempt at interference or control in this vital issue.

While all respondents are firm in their commitment to the PLO as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, the majority feels strongly that the organization needs reform. Nearly all respondents feel that the PLO needs to be more responsive, less bureaucratized, and more accountable to the wishes of the majority of the people. They are not as clear about the mechanisms necessary to effect such reforms. Ideally, most respondents prefer that members of the Palestine National Council be elected both from the inside and the outside. (As presently constituted, some 186 seats in the PNC are reserved for Palestinians of the occupied territories, but the Israelis have not permitted delegates to attend.) Respondents also want free elections for municipal councils, trade unions, and professional associations.

Another important issue involved selection of a Palestinian team for eventual negotiations with Israel. The right of the Palestinians to choose their representatives is seen, in the words of one respondent, as "a fundamental part of the right to self-determination." Despite their criticisms of the PLO, all the respondents felt that the organization must be closely involved in choosing the team; given the gravity of the issues at stake, the authority of the Palestinian team to speak on behalf of the Palestinian people must be beyond question.

But the respondents differed on what the PLO role in the selection process should be. About half the group preferred that the negotiating team be elected by the people from the inside and outside, possibly through the PNC if representatives from the territories would be allowed to take their seats. Most of the others preferred that the PLO should simply appoint the team, which in their view would guarantee that the negotiators would be experienced professionals with the needed authority, especially since the Israeli government would clearly be choosing its most experienced negotiators for any bargaining process. A minority of the respondents felt that the important issue was not the means of selection but the accountability of the negotiating team, which should rest with the PLO.

Most of the respondents were not very concerned about whether or not the PLO involvement in the peace process is visible and explicit, since it is assumed that no Palestinian would agree to participate in negotiations without coordinating with the PLO. What they were more concerned about was Israel's refusal to permit Palestinians from East Jerusalem to sit on a negotiating team. This restriction is firmly rejected for two basic reasons: a) many of the candidates who could serve on a negotiating team reside in Jerusalem, the political, social, economic, and intellectual center for the Palestinians under occupation; and b) at some point or another during the negotiations, the issue of Jerusalem must be put on the agenda.

The respondents all preferred the framework of an international conference because they would like to have a firm commitment from the major powers guaranteeing a settlement and ensuring their security. They are not rigid about this particular modality, and would be willing to accept a regional conference convened by the U.S. and the USSR and followed by bilateral negotiations. In one memorandum submitted to Secretary Baker, the Palestinians declared that

the most suitable mechanism for advancing the peace process is the International Conference, which is capable of producing concrete results. Any transitional steps or arrangements will have to be structured within a comprehensive, interconnected and coherent plan with a specified time frame for implementation and leading to Palestinian statehood.

Transitional Period

All the respondents felt that attempts at a peaceful settlement of the conflict should spell out the connection between transitional arrangements and the final outcome. This is not to say that the Palestinians wish to prejudge the outcome of negotiations. What is at issue here, and what is perceived by all respondents as crucial, is that their national rights not be subject to bar- gaining. They are willing to negotiate in the most flexible manner all kinds of political, economic, and security procedures. National rights, however, are not subject to compromise for them, any more than they are for any other national group aspiring to statehood and independence in the latter part of the twentieth century.

Most respondents are adamant about the need to affirm the question of sovereignty and control of the land from the very beginning, before negotiating other issues. They all accept the need for a transitional period which leads ultimately to statehood. None of them accepts the notion of autonomy offered in the Camp David Accords. As one respondent put it: "It is not reasonable and it is totally unacceptable for the Palestinians to be satisfied with limited autonomy ten years after the Camp David agreements. No Palestinian would dare accept this." More important, however, is the almost universal insistence that the first order of business is ending the Israeli occupation. In the words of one respondent, "It is impossible for us to think about building our state before we get rid of the occupation. To get us bogged down in discussing side issues is a way to get us to accept the occupation."

Not only do the Palestinians accept the principle of a transitional period, some have even begun to produce detailed proposals of how it could work. An interesting example (although unlikely to be translated into reality) is a comprehensive plan suggested by Talal Abu Afifeh, a West Bank attorney and political activist. Under the plan, which was published in Al-Fajr (20 May 1991), Abu Afifeh recommends three stages over a period of seven years. In the first stage, free and democratic elections would be held in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to elect an administrative council of 200 members. In the second stage, a Palestinian authority would be set up in the occupied territories for a three-year period. In the third stage, a just, comprehensive, and lasting solution to the Palestine problem would be negotiated on the basis of UN resolutions 181, 242, and 338. Abu Afifeh spells out in great detail the necessary requirements for elections to be supervised by international observers from the U.S., the Soviet Union, Egypt, and the European Community. To ensure free and democratic elections, Israel should under- take to do the following: remove its troops from the areas of the ballot boxes during elections; prevent all Israelis from entering the territories on the day of elections; allow residents of East Jerusalem to nominate themselves and to vote in these elections; allow detainees to be nominated and to vote by put- ting ballot boxes in the prisons; ensure freedom of expression for all candidates and refrain from arresting them before or after the elections; allow winners to move freely inside and outside the country.

According to Abu Afifeh's plan, the 200 members of the administrative council would meet to elect 10 members to negotiate with Israel. The PNC would then meet to form a provisional government of 20 members including the 10 elected by the administrative council in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Negotiations with Israel would then begin in order to agree on an interim transitional period not to exceed three years. During this period, the Palestinians would be granted an expanded authority to run their internal affairs. Their prerogatives would include: forming a police force, issuing identify cards, importing and exporting, and establishing economic, social, and cultural institutions. They would also be able to use the Qalandia airstrip for civil purposes and to establish radio and television stations. During the interim period, Israel would remove its troops from the populated areas of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and dismantle the civil administration.

After the start of the interim period, several key issues would be handled jointly: the release of detainees by Israel and the return of the refugees to the prospective state of Palestine, including the determination of how many refugees could be absorbed and at what rate. Within two years of the start of the interim period, the PNC and the PLO would have to declare officially the amendment of the Palestine National Charter in order to make it more consistent with the new circumstances. The new Charter would be put to a referendum. In return, Israel would declare its recognition of the provisional government set up by the PNC. It would also agree that the members of the provisional government (from both the inside and the outside) would participate in the joint Palestinian-Jordanian delegation that would negotiate with Israel the final stage.

According to Abu Afifeh, negotiations in the final stage would deal with the issues of Jerusalem, settlements, the refugee problem, borders and security arrangements, and water resources. Final negotiations would result in a peace treaty, followed by mutual recognition and the setting up of diplomatic, economic, and cultural relations among all the parties.

Negotiating Issues

For most respondents, core issues for negotiation include the matter of security, the question of Israeli settlements, the status of Jerusalem, the issue of water resources, and the right of Palestinian refugees to return.

Security: Most respondents believe that the Palestinian state should have a police force and a small standing army designed to maintain law and order domestically and to defend against outside subversion. Sandwiched between Jordan and Israel, a Palestinian state must be concerned about its security, given the fact that, by itself, it cannot withstand assaults from its strong neighbors. To those Israelis who say that a Palestinian state will threaten Israel because Kfar Saba is only seven kilometers from Qalqilya, the Palestinians interviewed point out that "Qalqilya is also seven kilometers from Kfar Saba. This depends upon where you stand on the map." Consequently there will have to be international guarantees to ensure the security of the new state. Security arrangements should also be negotiated among the three key parties (Israel, Jordan, and Palestine) in order to defend against threats by irredentist or terrorist groups emanating from inside or from outside.

Settlements: All respondents state that the settlements have been set up illegally on land confiscated by the occupation authorities that rightly belongs to the Palestinians. Several options, however, emerge from an analysis of respondents' comments. One is to dismantle the settlements and repatriate the Jewish settlers to Israel, and use the settlement structures to house returning Palestinian refugees. A second option is to allow the settlements to remain as long as the settlers acquire Palestinian citizenship and abide by the laws of the new state. A third option allows the settlers to stay if they abide by the laws of the state but at the same time allows them to retain their Israeli citizenship and to vote in Knesset elections. The Palestinians are open to exploring these and other alternatives to ensure a fair and equitable solution. There was unanimity among the respondents on one very important issue, which is that no future Jewish settlements could be created in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Jerusalem: All respondents were firm on the subject of Jerusalem. For them, a Palestinian entity without Jerusalem is a body without a head. Jerusalem remains the core of Palestinian aspirations and the hub of their political, intellectual, and economic life. The Palestinian position, unanimously adhered to among the interviewees (and in line with the position of the international community), is that East Jerusalem was illegally annexed in enlarged boundaries after 1967 by Israel, which then altered its demographic and physical character in effort to ensure a Jewish majority. Nonetheless, the Palestinians are willing to negotiate arrangements that would accommodate Israel's desire to keep the city unified and retain access to the holy places, provided the basic issue of Palestinian sovereignty over East Jerusalem is assured. One might note here three options suggested by Talal Abu Afifeh: (1) that East Jerusalem fall under Palestinian control with guaranteed access to all parties; (2) that the city come under UN control with guaranteed access for all parties (with Islamic and Christian holy places to be administered by a Palestinian civil authority, and Jewish holy places to be administered by an Israeli civil authority; and (3) that the city remains unified with one Israeli-Palestinian municipal council to safeguard the rights of both parties in a fair manner.

Water resources: The Israeli authorities took over the water resources of the occupied territories after 1967 and have since followed a highly discriminatory policy in allocating water to the Palestinians. All respondents agree that a sovereign Palestinian state must control its natural resources, water being the most crucial. However, they are also aware that water is a critical issue for all the parties to the conflict and for other states in the region. Several respondents suggested the creation of a regional water authority that will determine the allocation of resources and ensure an adequate supply to all concerned.

The right of return: Nearly all Palestinian respondents consider this right sacred. However, in the words of one interviewee, "once we accept Israel's right to exist, we must in effect relinquish our narrow interpretation of the right of return. This means that this right will be implemented in whatever portion of Palestine in which we establish our state. Beyond this, people are entitled to compensation for lost property but they forfeit the right to press for a return to the villages they lost in 1948." The Palestinians themselves will decide how many will return to the new state and at what rate, in keeping with the availability of resources to absorb them. It is difficult to say how many refugees will choose to return and how many would prefer to receive compensation for lost property. It is clear, however, that many of the refugees and the stateless people living in Lebanon and in the Gulf may be the first to return. They may wish to go back to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip or to Jordan if arrangements between the Palestinians and Jordan are agreed upon within the context of a confederal structure.

Prospects for a Settlement

As the Palestinians have become more moderate and willing to accept a compromise solution, the official Israeli position has become more intransigent. Most interviewees were not optimistic that peace is in the offing be- cause the new geopolitical conditions in the region serve to reinforce the Likud's historic opposition to territorial concessions. The platform of the Likud coalition stated clearly in March 1977: "The right of the Jewish people to the land of Israel is eternal and indisputable and is linked with the right to security and peace; therefore, Judea and Samaria will not be handed to any foreign administration; between the sea and the Jordan there will only be Israeli sovereignty." In August 1981, the guidelines of the Likud government reiterated this credo: "The right of the Jewish people to the land of Israel is an eternal right that cannot be called into question, and which is intertwined with the right to security and peace." Most respondents pointed out that Prime Minister Shamir embodies the Likud principles by his constant declarations that "not one inch of Judea and Samaria and the Gaza will be re- turned by Israel."

For the Likud, Israel's claim to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip is ideological and absolute; it is not dependent on what the Arabs decide to do. Neither does it derive from mistrust of or lack of confidence in the Palestinians. It is therefore doubtful that the Palestinians can do anything to win over Likud and the religious right in Israel, short of disappearing from the map altogether.

The security objective in holding on to the occupied territories is marginal. Many of Israel's leading generals are convinced that Israel does not need to hold on to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip for security reasons. Furthermore, the recent Gulf War shows quite convincingly the irrelevance of territorial barriers for security.

The Likud defines peace with the Palestinians as a situation in which the latter will accept a limited form of autonomy under Israeli domination. Mr. Menahem Begin's second government adopted the following policy guide- lines (5 August 1981):

The autonomy agreed upon at Camp David means neither sovereignty nor self-determination. The autonomy agreements set down at Camp David are guarantees that under no condition will a Palestinian state emerge in the territories of Eretz Israel.... At the end of the transition period ... Israel will raise its claim, and act to realize its right of sovereignty over Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza Strip.

The Likud sees the conflict with the Arabs as a war of attrition and is convinced that Israel will eventually prevail. In the long-run, it argues, the Palestinians will be so frustrated that they will abandon their claim to state- hood. As more settlements are planted, the number of Jews will reach a critical mass. World public opinion is not likely to call on Israel to evacuate the territories, something the Israelis will surely describe as national suicide. In the meanwhile, the iron fist policy used to suppress the Palestinians seems designed to force the majority to migrate, leaving more room for new Jewish immigrants from the Soviet Union.

It is highly unlikely that the opposition in Israel will be able to challenge the Likud and to move the country toward negotiations. For a variety of reasons, the moderates in Israel failed to stem the slide toward the right and refused to take clear positions on issues dealing with the Palestine question. Their ambivalence on key issues and at critical moments left the field wide open to the Likud and the religious right to define the political agenda.

A change in Israel's position is more likely as a result of pressure from other countries. Here the roles of the United States government and of the international community are crucial. So far, the American government has chosen to challenge Israeli settlements rather than basic Israeli policy. Furthermore, the U.S. government calls for a settlement on the basis of UN resolution 242, which the Likud claims has already been implemented by Israel's withdrawal from the Sinai. The Bush administration has yet to challenge this interpretation, and, like previous American governments, has refused to spell out clearly what should happen to the territories once Israel evacuates them in accordance with resolution 242. A U.S. government endorsement of the rights of the Palestinians in the occupied territories to national self-determination would send a clear signal to the Likud that Israel cannot determine the future of these territories unilaterally. Although the U.S. has many options at its disposal, it is not clear how serious it is about achieving a settlement. Although the majority of respondents think the U.S. holds the key to a settlement, none of them is too optimistic that the Bush administration will be willing to incur the political risk of confronting Mr. Shamir. Some respondents even think that the U.S. government is part of the problem and not part of the solution.

On the surface, it appears that the Palestinian position in the Arab, regional, and international contexts has suffered as a result of the Gulf war. This may prove to be a hasty reading of the political map of the region. It is still too early to assess the impact of the Gulf war; but there is ample reason to believe that the polarization of the Arab world and the serious economic crisis may lead to political explosions in the future. One can easily argue that while a resolution of the Arab-Israeli-Palestinian conflict may not eliminate all the problems in the Middle East, it could conceivably slow down the drift toward chaos. While most Arab governments are no longer committed to the Palestinian cause, they still would prefer that it be settled in some form or another. Syria is not likely to object to a settlement that is acceptable to the majority of the Palestinians, and may even be ready to strike a deal of its own with Israel and the United States. The benefits that would accrue to the region as a result of a political settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict far outweigh the costs of its non-resolution.

What can the Palestinians do in the likely event that the present peace process fades away because the Bush administration decides that it is too politically costly to confront the Israeli leadership?

A return to armed struggle and political violence may be tempting to some groups, especially if the peace process fails to produce tangible results on the ground that would make life easier for those under occupation. Violent acts could be carried out in conjunction with other disaffected groups in the region who suffered as a result of the Gulf war. But this is not a valid option for the Palestinian national movement; none of the respondents even mentioned it.

Concerning the PLO, while the respondents were unanimous in supporting it as an organization and institution, some felt that the historic leadership that has led the Palestinian national movement over the last decades has largely achieved its role, and should be reconstituted. Others felt that in the present circumstances, when the movement is under tremendous outside pressure and when Palestinians in general are being marginalized in the peace process, the primary consideration should be to preserve unity in the ranks. For these respondents, the task of reform and revitalization could be satisfied by the infusion of new blood into the present leadership structure.

In 1988, at the height of their historic uprising, the Palestinians adopted far-reaching resolutions which launched their peace-for-land initiative. They then waited for the world to take heed and respond. Many of those inter- viewed resent the fact that no effective response either from the U.S. or the international community was forthcoming. Nor were there any further initiatives from the Palestinian leadership or the Arab governments capitalizing on the international goodwill arising from the intifada and on Israel's increasing isolation. Instead, there was a wait-and-see attitude which, in the wake of the Gulf war, left the political initiative in the hands of others, particularly the United States and Israel. This being the case, the Palestinians interviewed felt that their first priority is to get their house in order so as to convince the world not only of their legitimate rights, but that they have the will and seriousness to do what is necessary to achieve them.


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Fouad Moughrabi teaches political science at the University of Tennessee in Chattanooga. Elia Zureik teaches sociology at Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada. Manuel Hassassian teaches political science at Bethlehem University, West Bank. Aziz Haider teaches sociology at Bir Zeit University, West Bank. This paper forms the background to a larger study of images of peace sponsored by the Dreyfuss/James Productions in Los Angeles. 

** See JPS XX, no. 4 (Summer 1991), Documents B2, B3, B6, and B8-Ed. note. 




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