Next Steps for Israel and the PLO

September 01, 1993

Having taken the plunge, Israel and the PLO should try to announce their joint declaration of principles for a peace agreement as quickly as possible. They should try to establish lTC Palestinian autonomy in Gaza and Jericho as soon as feasible, to deliver tangible benefits to the Palestinians whom the PLO purports to represent.

The sooner this accord can be complemented by a breakthrough linking Syria and Israel, the stronger the peace process will be. Jordan, the Arab neighbor that Israel coexisted with best, will wind up not first in the peace process but last, a testament to its weakness.

The death threats to Yasser Arafat from Arab extremists should be taken seriously. Terrorist groups and their supporters will try to wreck the historic agreement between the PLO and Israel. Both sides can expect to encounter terrorist efforts launched from Gaza or Jericho with hopes of bringing Israeli military reprisal that would embitter Palestinians and derail the process. Such tactics could, indeed, succeed. Preventing them from doing so calls for joint planning and prevention.

The first reaction of Likud, Israel's chief opposition party, is negative. But the agreement is what Labor was returned to power pledged to seek. In concept, it flows from the Camp David accord of 1978 between Israel and Egypt, which was negotiated by a Likud government. Likud will have difficulty denying its paternity for the concept.

This agreement catapults the PLO from growing marginality to the center of Palestinian aspirations. PLO intransigence was failing to make life better for Palestinians under Israeli occupation. It was being overtaken among militants by Hamas, which pledges destruction of Israel. The PLO lost the support of the former Soviet bloc, and suffered diminished subsidies from the Arab oil states, partly for espousing Iraq's invasion of Kuwait and partly because oil wealth is shrinking.

The U.S., to everyone's surprise, was a bystander in the secret negotiation between Israel and the PLO in Norway. When their interests were imperative and conditions propitious, Israel and the PLO were quite capable of talking turkey. More surprising to many observers, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin not only recognized the PLO but trusted the negotiation to his rival, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres. They are both old hawks for Israel's security, and are both running for their place in history.

The agreement in principle is the first tangible gain in the negotiations launched two years ago by the Bush administration. The Clinton administration shows admirable continuity with its predecessor in Middle East policy. The U.S. will still be called upon to play a role in brokering Israel's relations with Arab states and in organizing international support for Palestinian autonomy. Israel and the PLO accomplished an amazing step, but they cannot do it all without the United States.

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