Palestinians on Hold WAR IN THE GULF

March 02, 1991

While Saddam Hussein rules an Iraq with Scuds and warplanes, as he still does, Israelis cannot put their gas masks away. While he rules an Iraq in defiant isolation, the Palestinians will not be high in the priorities of Arab states. And while these situations prevail, Israelis will not feel called upon to jeopardize their security to achieve peace with the Palestinians.

Israel did not win the gulf war, but Palestinians lost out from it. That is not surprising. They have been Saddam Hussein's victims for a decade. The frustration prompting many to idolize him -- which Israelis noticed -- was all the more ironic when viewed against his record. From the start of the Iran-Iraq war he insisted that oil states divert wealth from Palestinian support to his war machine. Now they will use it for their own defense and reconstruction.

Just before the ground war, American statesmen were suggesting that when the United Nations had cleared up this problem, others would follow. The Palestinian issue would come first. But so long as Saddam growls, that problem is not cleared up and the next has not popped up.

The misery of Palestinians under Israeli occupation will not go away. The problem needs early relief and long-term solution. Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the gulf emirates and, to a lesser extent, TC Syria, have won points with Washington and will seek U.S. support for an international conference on the Palestinian issue. But it won't be what they care about most. Israel also won great sympathy from Americans for forebearance under Scud fire and will also collect its IOUs.

The PLO won contempt of the Arab governments and the United States for its craven adherence to the tyrant. The agreed scenario calls for the PLO to play a role it no longer can. Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir will not sit down at a table with Yasser Arafat. The United States will not make him, and Egyptian and Saudi leaders will not expect it. Yet no substitute for the PLO is in Arab formulations.

If there is new hope, it is that Syria's repositioning may lead even to an Egyptian-style accommodation with Israel, previously unthinkable. That and that alone would retrieve for Syria the Golan Heights, as Syria's Hafez el Assad has always known. The need for a decent Palestinian settlement remains. The key to it is Arab acceptance of Israel. U.S. pressure on Israel will be needed, but not until that acceptance is in sight. That is more likely to come when the Saddam Hussein menace is fully put to rest.

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