After the Israeli Election: a Palestinian View


June 29, 1992|By HANAN ASHRAWI

AMMAN, JORDAN. — The new Labor-led government has the chance to rescue Israel from itself. The victory of the Labor Party and its probable coalition partners can be seen as a mandate to make serious decisions and finally pursue real peace with the Palestinians. There will now be movement in the peace talks, just how much is yet uncertain.

The Labor Party has made it clear that it wants to speed up the transitional phase to Palestinian autonomy. Some influential forces in the Labor Party are even known to support a two-state solution.

During the campaign, Labor also made it clear in the party platform that all settlements in the occupied territories must cease. Yitzhak Rabin, regarded by Palestinians as a hard-liner because he is the architect of the ''iron fist,'' ''break their bones'' policy of repression against the intifada, however, has made a distinction between ''political'' settlements and ''security'' settlements. He would apparently stop the former, but not the latter. For us, all settlements are illegal. Security can only come from a peace agreement, not from confiscating our territory.

We must now be vigilant. The danger is that the Palestinians will be under pressure to accept halfway measures that may not be in our best interests. Our problem is that we may find ourselves in a situation where we are seen as refusing the olive branch at last offered by what will seem to be a more reasonable Israeli government.

In meetings with the Palestinian leadership here in Amman last week, we decided to press ahead for the next round of peace negotiations to take place as swiftly and as intensively as possible.

Are we are hopeful of the prospects?

Anything is better than the nothing offered during the years of Likud dominance. We entered the peace process with the most hard-line, racist government in the history of Israel, pushed further toward extremism by the tremendous influence of the small, right-wing and religious parties on whom the Likud relied to stay in power.

The Israeli government led by Yitzhak Shamir refused to accept the very terms of reference of the U.S.-backed peace process -- ''land for peace.'' His government systematically violated the spirit of negotiations by deliberately building settlements in order to unilaterally predetermine the outcome of the talks.

Without evidence or trial, at the whim of Israeli military officers, our people have been imprisoned under administrative detention for renewable six-month periods. Death squads, known as ''undercover units,'' have executed our people. Houses have been demolished on the basis of mere suspicion that family members have participated in the intifada. Collective punishment has been meted out regularly by transforming entire Palestinian areas into closed military zones under curfew.

How different will a Labor-led government be?

The acid test for the new government will come by demonstrating good faith through concrete acts on the ground. What might those acts of good faith be?

First, closing the administrative detention prison at Kedziot in the Negev desert. That camp is illegal. Its prisoners are treated brutally under the harshest conditions. Second, releasing political prisoners, which at present number about 10,000. Third, stopping the building of settlements in the occupied territories. Fourth, lifting the array of economic restrictions on Palestinians -- from ownership regulations to import and export customs to unfair tax levies.

Beyond this, the basic agenda item we will push in negotiations with the new government is creation of the Palestinian Self-Government Authority. The Likud government rejected our proposal. But it is a real necessity if the peace process is to succeed.

How can the transfer of authority be carried out? Who will be in charge in the occupied territories? And how can there be self-government unless that government is elected through universal suffrage?

A central authority, duly elected and accountable to the people, must take over the responsibility for government in the occupied territories. That can only happen through internationally supervised elections -- not under duress or dictate of the Israelis.

We are operating according to the time frame spelled out by the ''Letter of Invitation'' and ''Letter of Assurances'' to the Middle East peace talks issued by the Americans. They say that the first phase of negotiations will last up to one year, which means until November. Then elections should take place to initiate the transitional phase to self-rule. That is why we want to hold elections in November.

Prior to that time of course, censorship, collective punishment, administrative detention and curfews -- the mechanisms of duress -- must be lifted. And, of course, deportees must be allowed to turn home to vote.

These are the necessary elements for making peace between Palestinians and Israelis. We are clear on how we must proceed. The world must now wait to see if the new government that is formed in Israel will take the steps required for a lasting peace.

Hanan Ashrawi is spokeswoman for the Palestinian delegation to the Middle East Peace Talks. These comments are adapted from a conversation with Nathan Gardels, editor of New Perspectives Quarterly.

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