The road to justice

A.M. Rosenthal

September 07, 1993|By A.M. Rosenthal

PHASE One: creation of a Palestinian state controlled by the Palestine Liberation Organization. Phase Two: use of that state to carry on the struggle until "all Palestinian territory," which means Israel, is under Palestinian domination.

For a quarter-century that has been the two-phase policy of the PLO. Sometimes it is stated formally -- as at the PLO Cairo meeting in 1974. And day after day it has been proclaimed one way or another in PLO speeches to the Palestinian people.

History shows this was not bluff but passion. Once, the $l Palestinians could have had their state for the asking -- under the U.N. partition plan. Rather than accept the price, living with Israel, they entered a half-century of warfare -- military, political, economic and terrorist.

That is why one Israeli government after another, Labor and Likud, warned that creation of an independent Palestinian state was a step toward Armageddon. And I suppose that is why so many Israelis developed the habit of following the phrase "Palestinian state" with another -- "God forbid."

Now the Labor government is following a path that must inevitably lead to a creation of an independent Palestinian state -- in five years at most, likely a lot less.

For awhile Labor may deny this inevitability. But a government that is recognized by its enemy, that has control over land and over its own internal security as stated in the PLO-Israel agreement, that government is a state. The world would logically accept that reality.

Why the acceptance by Israel of a state run by a terrorist organization that has slaughtered Israelis at home and abroad -- and that is on its last legs because its leaders have made one idiotic decision after another?

The Israeli opposition charges that Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres are sacrificing their people's safety and freedom for political advantage. The word "treason" is not used; but it hangs in the air.

But those foreign supporters of Israel who are interested only in Israeli safety, not which party rules, know that Labor leaders have fought as hard and long for Israel as Likud has. They have chosen this path with all its dangers, because they believe that Phase Two can be stopped before it is ever launched.

That is the almost heart-stopping risk they are taking. They believe the Palestinians and the Arab nations are now ready to settle for a West Bank Palestine -- and end the fight there.

Labor sees a different world around it. Palestinians no longer have the Soviet Union for support. Arab states are tired of supplying Palestinians with money and arms. Fundamentalism seems a far greater danger to them than do the Palestinians.

The first part of the understanding worked out between Israel and the PLO certainly is a good-riddance deal for Israel -- giving up Gaza. The price is clear -- the emergence of a new Palestinian state on virtually all of the West Bank.

The Rabin government is making some assumptions that seem dangerous to me. It must assume that once a PLO state is set up it will not be taken over by the fundamentalist groups like Hezbollah or Hamas or the PLO's own hard-liners, all sworn to the death against Israel.

Other Israelis, and I, make an opposite assumption -- that it will be easier for the fundamentalists to take over a nice, neatly set up little state, maybe even by free elections, than a feuding resistance movement scattered across the Middle East.

My own heart leaps at the thought that the Palestinians and Arabs have put Phase Two behind them forever. The promise of peace and amity rises from that thought, like the aroma of a rose.

DTC But I hold back because I know that the Mideast is ruled largely by dictators and religious holy warriors who care no more for what the people wish than the Fascists they so resemble.

Benjamin Netanyahu, the Likud leader, is demanding an election because Labor did not make clear its plans before the last election. With or without elections, the debate in Israel will be terribly bitter and hard. Already American commentary is labeling the Likud as political cowards and Labor as political heroes.

The best gift American friends can give Israel is to put away the political mudballs and listen harder and more carefully to those on both sides of the most important decisions since the birth of Israel.

A.M. Rosenthal is a columnist for the New York Times.

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