Israeli ultra-nationalists, like Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, hold that there can be only one state between the Mediterranean and the River Jordan, and that state must be Israel. The Palestine Liberation Organization, in its National Covenant, similarly claims sovereignty over the whole of Palestine, a stance that not only denies the legitimacy of Israel but candidly demands its elimination. These mutually extreme positions, which are by no means endorsed by all Israelis or by all Palestinian Arabs, have provided both the practical basis and the expedient excuse for perpetuating hatred, hostility and political deadlock. Now comes the first official hint of a PLO interest in trying to get around that deadlock.
At this point it would be stretching things to use any word stronger than “hint” to describe what came out of the PLO meeting in Algiers. PLO spokesmen, addressing the United States and other Western nations, contend there is a new moderation in their organization, as foremost proof of which they cite a vote by conference delegates to accept--21 years after its enactment--U.N. Security Council Resolution 242. Among other things that resolution calls for acknowledging the sovereignty and right to live in peace of every state in the Middle East. PLO spokesman thus say they now implicitly recognize Israel. The problem, though, is that the PLO remains on record as explicitly demanding Israel’s elimination.
This is only one of the many unresolved contradictions and ambiguities to come out of the Algiers meeting. The PLO declared the existence of an independent Palestinian state, based on “the conditions of international legitimacy” inherent in U.N. General Assembly Resolution 181, which was passed in 1947 and called for partitioning Palestine into two states, one Arab and one Jewish. But the PLO’s proclamation doesn’t define the boundaries of a Palestinian state. The only clue as to what those might be occurs, as noted, in the National Covenant, which says all of Palestine, including Israel, belongs to the Arabs. In the most glaring paradox of all the covenant also specifically declares Resolution 181 and the establishment o f Israel “null and void.” The PLO, then, is in the absurd position of rejecting the very U.N. resolution that it now cites as its legal basis for declaring Palestinian statehood.
Which PLO is to be believed, the PLO of the Algiers conference with its claimed moderation or the PLO of the National Covenant, with its uncompromising insistence on “armed struggle” as the only way to achieve its goals? Some advances do seem to have been made in the PLO’s internal debates; thus the hint that coexistence with Israel is at least a possibility. What seems clear at the same time is that the PLO failed to take advantage of the political opportunity handed it by King Hussein’s decision to withdraw from involvement in the West Bank and by the Palestinian uprising there. The PLO, as the Soviet Union urged and as the United States insists, could have seized the political high ground by unambiguously recognizing Israel’s legitimacy and unequivocally renouncing terrorism. Such actions would surely have won it a place at any Middle East peace conference. Instead, amid much rhetorical razzle-dazzle, it ducked and dodged and not untypically ended its meeting with its real intentions still very much hidden in a fog of uncertainty.