Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, after thinking about the unthinkable, have now achieved the seemingly unimaginable.
By officially recognizing each other after an extended series of secret contacts and detailed negotiations they have cleared the way for signing an accord to launch Palestinian self-rule in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank town of Jericho. That will be the expected initial step toward extending Palestinian autonomy over much of the territory taken by Israel in the 1967 war. The signing, expected Monday, will also open the way for a resumption of U.S.-PLO contacts.
The accord on recognition is yet one more shock to the rejectionists on both sides who regard Israeli-Palestinian enmity as eternal and the conflict arising from it as irreconcilable. It is now up to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s government and Yasser Arafat and his allies in the PLO to prove that the opponents of the peace process are on the wrong side of history.
Israel says that its key conditions have been met by the PLO in the mutual recognition agreement: acceptance of its right to exist in peace and security; denunciation by the PLO of terror and violence; a PLO call to the Palestinian people to cease violence and terror; a purging of the PLO’s national covenant of all clauses referring to Israel’s destruction; creation of a process to peacefully solve disputes.
This list of undertakings clearly does not in itself guarantee a peaceful transition toward self-rule. The PLO will ask for an end to violence in Gaza and the West Bank; it can’t promise one, because it hasn’t the authority to do so.
The intifada, whatever Israel’s early propaganda line on it held, did not start on orders from the PLO’s headquarters in Tunis. It began spontaneously and has been kept going at least in part by the organizational abilities of Hamas, the Islamic fundamentalist group that is the PLO’s rival for power in the territories and a bitter enemy of the peace process. Hamas will go on trying to sabotage that process by attacks on Israelis as well as on Palestinian supporters of peace. The right wing in Israel on its part will use Hamas-instigated violence to buttress its claims that the peace process is a sham and Palestinians can’t be trusted. Rabin, heading an increasingly shaky coalition, will have to use all his skills to encourage Israelis toward restraint and patience.
President Clinton has saluted the recognition agreement as “a very brave and courageous thing.” It is also a tribute to skillful diplomacy and disinterested mediation, notably by Norway and especially its foreign minister, Johan Jorgen Holst. The United States will remain an essential player as Israel and its Arab neighbors struggle to achieve peace. But there is scope for others to participate, and Norway has done so admirably.