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Palestinian Leader Floats 1-State Plan

Times Staff Writer

The Palestinian people may forgo their decades-long struggle for an independent state and instead push to become citizens of a single Jewish-Arab nation, the Palestinian Authority prime minister said Thursday in response to an Israeli threat to unilaterally draw boundaries.

Ahmed Korei’s warning -- his first tactical response to Israel’s threat -- provided a stark glimpse into the despair that has gripped the Palestinian leadership as a bloody uprising for independence drags into its fourth year with no resolution in sight.

If there is no agreement, “we will go for a one-state solution,” Korei said.

“We will not hesitate to defend the right of our people when we feel the very serious intention [of Israel] to destroy these rights.”

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Korei’s proposal would threaten the essence of Israel’s Jewish identity. Israelis are keenly aware that a higher Arab birthrate eventually would make Arabs the majority in a single state, and pressure has been mounting to divide the two populations. An estimated 3.5 million Palestinians now live in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and 1.2 million Arabs live inside Israel’s 1967 borders. About 5.5 million Jews live in Israel.

On Thursday, Israelis immediately dismissed Korei’s call for a single state.

Korei “is threatening to throw a demographic bomb at us,” said Ranaan Gissin, advisor to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. “But I assure you, there will never, never be a [single] state.”

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell was also quick to reject Korei’s suggestion, and repeated the American position that only a two-state solution would work.

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In what Sharon calls his “disengagement plan,” the Jewish state would finish a barrier separating Israel from the Palestinian territories, dismantle outlying Jewish settlements and seal chunks of Palestinian territory onto Israel’s eastern edge.

Israel says the barrier is a security precaution meant to protect it from suicide bombers. But many Palestinians fear the boundary will result in a border, and land grab.

Sharon’s ultimatum, delivered in December, gave a new sense of desperation to Palestinians, many of whom fear they’ve lost the chance to negotiate.

“This is an apartheid solution to put the Palestinians in cantons,” Korei said Thursday in an interview with Reuters news agency. “Who can accept this?”

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Many Palestinians regard a single state as an undesirable, last-ditch solution. But among some prominent Palestinians, the notion has quietly gained currency as the intifada, or uprising, rages on. Fearful and battle-weary, many Palestinians have been deeply frustrated by their leaders’ inability to govern, and have been casting around for new possibilities.

If the Israeli occupation hampers the Palestinian Authority from governing its people, some leaders have begun to argue, then the authority should be prepared to dismantle itself and force Israel to take administrative responsibility.

Some Palestinians now suggest that “facts on the ground” make it less realistic to draw a border between Arabs and Jews. Thousands of Jewish settlers have built sophisticated suburban communities in the Palestinian territories.

Korei “is reflecting a reality on the ground,” said Palestinian Authority legal advisor Michael Tarazi. “Israel keeps taking more and more land and moving more and more settlers in. It’s getting less and less realistic to talk about two states.”

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Korei said Israeli policy has left him no choice. In his office in the West Bank village of Abu Dis, on the outskirts of East Jerusalem, the premier showed maps of Israel’s controversial separation fence. The wall, he said, is an attempt to “put Palestinians like chickens in cages.”

“The wall is to unilaterally mark the borders -- this is the intention behind the wall,” he said. “It will kill the ‘road map’ [peace plan] and kill the two-state vision.”

Both Sharon’s ruling Likud Party and the opposition Labor Party hold Israel’s Jewish identity as a central and absolutely nonnegotiable reality. Talk of a state in which Jews would eventually no longer be the majority is anathema to most Israelis.

Gissin said the Palestinians have only two choices: participate in negotiations for a state of their own, or accept the leftover land on the far side of Israel’s wall.

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“We’re not going to rule these people,” Gissin said. “We will draw the fence in such a way that the majority of the Palestinians are on the other side. We’ll take what we need and leave the rest.”


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