DURING nearly 40 days in solitary confinement in an Israeli prison, I thought about where we Palestinians are as a people and where we are heading in the post-gulf war Middle East.
While we might feel that the Israeli security fears are exaggerated, we have to understand Jewish history, especially the Holocaust's effects on the Jewish psyche. We have to deal seriously with the Israelis' security concerns in a manner acceptable to the norms of relations between peoples and states.
As bad as the war's outcome has been for our demands of statehood and for Palestine Liberation Organization representation, we can still take advantage of the moral principles that have emerged. The supremacy of international law and the U.N. Security Council can be helpful tools for Palestinians.
The world has talked about the Kurds' rights to determine their own future. It is certainly time that the U.S. and Israel accept Palestinian self-determination.
Such a pronouncement -- a modern-day Balfour Declaration, which created Israel -- need not require immediate implementation. As proof of Palestinians' commitment to peace and a political settlement, we might be ready to have our rights carried out in stages. The declaration itself would ease our fears that some Israeli elements want to drive Palestinians across the Jordan River, if not to keep us under the Israeli occupation army's domination forever. It would be a breakthrough if the Israelis stopped calling us "residents" and instead recognized our legitimate national rights.
This recognition means that the Jewish settlement campaign must end. Settlements built on Arab land for exclusive use by Jews are not only an obstacle to peace but also illegal, as former President Jimmy Carter described them. It is time President Bush and Secretary of State James Baker tell the Israelis in no uncertain terms that settlement-building in the occupied territories can't continue while all parties are seeking lasting peace.
Nor should the details of who would represent the Palestinians be an obstacle to talks. This can be solved by elections. I am sure that Palestinians, in the occupied territories and in exile, would accept a U.N.-sponsored vote for their leaders. A fair election would emphasize our commitment to democracy as spelled out in our 1988 declaration of independence.
I am sure elections would prove the depth of support for the PLO and thus help the Israelis come to terms with the PLO.
Mamdouh Aker is a Palestinian surgeon. He was held by the Israelis for questioning about aiding the Palestinian resistance, but was released on bail without charge April 17.