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PERSPECTIVE ON MIDEAST PEACE : Rabin Steers Israel Into a Ditch

<i> EHUD OLMERT, a member of Israel's Knesset representing the Likud Party, was interviewed Monday by Geoffrey Aronson, a journalist who edits the Report on Israeli Settlements in the Occupied Territories, published by the Foundation for Middle East Peace in Washington</i>

Question: Israel is conducting a high-level dialogue with recognized PLO officials. What is your reaction?

Answer: Yes, for all practical purposes this is the first time that the Israeli government has officially recognized the PLO. This is a historic turning point and, I’m afraid, a very discouraging development.

Q: What are your main concerns about the agreement with the PLO?

A: I have two main concerns. One is the fact that this was done with official representatives of the PLO. Israel was reluctant to negotiate with the PLO and to recognize it for a long period. Our argument was twofold: First, the PLO is the most active supporter of terror against Israel. How can Israel seriously act against terror if it recognizes those who are waging the war of terror? The other reason was that the PLO is identical to a Palestinian state. For a very, very long period of time, Israel, and even the international community, agreed that the creation of a Palestinian state will establish a mortal danger to Israel.

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Q: Those are the words of former Prime Minister Menachem Begin.

A: Yes, but even today, you can hear from (Prime Minister Yitzhak) Rabin and (Foreign Minister Shimon) Peres that they are totally against the idea of a Palestinian state. Now how can anyone be serious about opposition to a Palestinian state and yet at the same time negotiate, recognize an organization whose sole exclusive political objective is a Palestinian state?

Q: So you believe that any agreement with the PLO, whatever its details, must lead to recognition of a Palestinian state?

A: No. This is a process. Once it has been set in this direction, it is almost inevitable that at the end of the day we will be pushed to terms and a timetable for the establishment of a Palestinian state.

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Q: Do you also expect the United States to renew its dialogue with the PLO?

A: I hope that they won’t. (But) how can they not do it when Israel is pushing them to do it?

Q: Is this treason on Rabin’s part, as some Israelis have described it?

A: I believe that Rabin is as patriotic as I am, but being a patriot unfortunately does not save you from making dramatic mistakes, which is what I accuse Rabin of making.

Q: But Rabin has been as hostile to the PLO as any Israeli. He understands that this agreement with the PLO will preserve Israeli security and the viability of Israeli settlements. Is he deluding not only himself but also the Israeli public by arguing that this prospective agreement assures Israeli interests in these two spheres?

A: Rabin is a decent guy. I think he’s deluding himself, and consequently he’s deluding the Israeli public.

Q: Do you assume that Rabin has agreed to a total pullout from Gaza?

A: Sure. No doubt about it. It’s just a matter of time.

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Q: In June, Rabin stated that an agreement on Gaza would make a solution to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank “less urgent.” Is this a “Gaza first and last” proposal in his view?

A: Maybe this is what he wants. But I don’t trust that he can seriously withhold the continuation of this process (toward Palestinian independence) in the second stage of talks. He will find that once he agreed to the first stage, he doesn’t control the timing of this process.

Q: So the train has left the station and it’s headed toward Palestinian independence?

A: I’m afraid so, at the expense of Israel’s security.

Q: What will Rabin’s political opponents do to confront his intentions?

A: I think the Israeli political system will become very volatile. Will Rabin be able to preserve a Jewish majority in the Knesset? (If Rabin’s coalition loses one of the religious parties, it will have to rely on the Arab bloc’s votes in the Knesset.) Will he call early elections? Is he confident of winning such elections if they take place? All these are still very much unresolved issues.

Q: You don’t see any way in which this agreement will work toward Israel’s objectives of assuring security and winning Palestinian acquiescence in a continuing Israeli presence in the occupied territories?

A: I hope and I pray, but we will be entering the next stage of negotiations without some of the assets and advantages that we’ve had until now. So it will be more difficult.

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Q: What role did the United States play in this agreement?

A: I don’t want to put the blame on the Americans. I think America has proven very friendly to the Israeli government, and I think responsibility for this initiative is solely on the shoulders of the Israeli government. The Americans cooperated with it. Why shouldn’t they? They don’t want to be more protective of Israeli interests than the Israeli government itself. But I think they were pushed by us toward this agreement more than they pushed us.

Q: Peres argued in the Knesset (Monday) that the Palestinian police force to be established in the Gaza Strip will be employed against Hamas.

A: They (the PLO) don’t want to crack down on Hamas. If they want to keep the pressure on Israel, they will use Hamas in order to demand more from Israel.


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