The new Israeli “peace ideas,” revealed last month by Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, bring to mind the stage routine in which the illusion of walking and even sprinting is created without the pantomimist advancing a single inch. Shamir’s intention was to generate feverish diplomatic activity, giving the illusion of movement without actually advancing even an inch closer to peace.
Key elements in Shamir’s sham “ideas” for settling the Palestinian conflict are: autonomy Camp David style, election of a new Palestinian leadership without ties to the Palestine Liberation Organization and negotiations about the occupied territories with Jordan and other Arab governments.
None of these elements make sense.
It is not for mere autonomy, a caricature of independence, that Palestinian boys and girls are sacrificing their lives. The Palestinians, who were a beaten and humiliated people, ignored by the world and by their fellow Arabs, have been transformed by 15 months of struggle. Having stood up to an aggressive and efficient army, the Palestinian people have a new sense of pride and national resolve. They know their uprising cannot be quelled. It is ridiculous to think that they will halt their growing rebellion in return for the privilege of administering their own sewage system.
The idea of establishing an alternative Palestinian leadership is equally ridiculous. The most important achievement of the intifada has been the strengthening of the PLO and the enhancement of its prestige and authority. From a secondary and neglected pre- intifada status, Yasser Arafat and the PLO have moved to center stage in the Arab world. Arab leaders look to Arafat to mediate disputes and world leaders are vying for an official visit with him.
For any emerging state, universally recognized leadership is of the utmost importance. The Palestinians understand this and, with few exceptions, rally behind the PLO. The exceptions, marginal splinter groups and foreign agents, are not tolerated any more than similar splinter groups were tolerated in other emerging countries, including the pre-state Jewish settlement in Palestine.
The Israeli government insists that it will never negotiate with the PLO because it has conducted terrorist activities. This stand is not credible as long as Israel sits in the United Nations along with 50 other countries whose leaders, like Shamir, were terrorists until their independence was achieved. This stand does not make sense when it is remembered that Israel signed an agreement with West Germany only six years after the end of the Holocaust.
In favor of negotiating with Jordan’s King Hussein rather than with Arafat, the tired argument is made that there are more Palestinian Arabs in Jordan than in the occupied territories. But there also are more Jews in the United States than in Greater Israel. Should then the Arabs negotiate with George Bush rather than with the government of Israel?
If we abandon Shamir’s insincere nonsense, what remains is for Israel to negotiate with the PLO. After 100 years of enmity between the two peoples, the recognized leader of the Palestinian people has stood up and declared his willingness to negotiate with Israel to achieve a peace in which our country and a Palestinian state will stand side-by-side. The only rational response is immediately to stop the bloodshed, for which there is no longer any excuse, and to enter negotiations now.
Those who doubt Arafat’s sincerity can rest assured that negotiations are not about words; rather, they are about issues of substance: the border between Israel and Palestine, the status of Jerusalem, defense arrangements, the refugee problem and relations between the two countries. If Arafat is not sincere, that will be discovered very quickly.
Those in Israel who refuse to negotiate with Arafat are saying in essence that they prefer not to have peace. Shamir’s sham is a game played to gain time. But as the intifada grows, augmenting the moral and political strength of the Palestinian people, and as our strength and international prestige decline, we are not gaining time, we are losing it.
It is in Israel’s vital interest at this time to come to the negotiating table with Yasser Arafat, the only man whose signature can hold the Palestinian people to a peace agreement. The price that we Israelis will pay for peace is a dear one: all of the territory captured in 1967. But there is no other rational choice. Those Israelis who propose to free Arafat from his commitment to peace are risking Israel’s very existence.