A New Role for the PLO

September 18, 1993

The embryonic Middle East peace calls for the PLO, after a generation of insurrection from exile, to become a force for stability, law and order. To make it work, Israel must see that Palestinians' lives become better from the start, with economic development and infrastructure. The PLO must see that Israelis, whether in Israel or in settlements on occupied land, are protected from harm.

To deliver its promise to the Palestinians, the PLO must show that it is responsible and efficient in such mundane matters as sewage and public health. It is not enough for Yasser Arafat to posture as the equivalent of a head of state. He must run an effective county government.

For the assertion of power, Mr. Arafat brings his own police. Israel agreed to that, as the cornerstone of the enterprise. Units of the Palestine Liberation Army attached to Egypt's and Jordan's armed forces have begun taking civil police training. King Hussein of Jordan has agreed to supply the PLO with Jordanian police of Palestinian descent. Mr. Arafat asked for them.

Israel is moving out of administering police, roads, water, economic development, tourism, education and taxation. The PLO must pick these things up, without missing a step, to lend credibility to the agreement and to have a favorable chance in council elections. Small wonder that Mr. Arafat wants to be in Jericho in 10 weeks.

PLO announcements of an imminent Washington office and of agreement with Israel on the pace of return of refugees show the speed of this process. Yet what's needed is a very sensitive meshing of the diaspora leadership from Tunis and the Palestinian talent in place. For a ruling structure to rush in from exile and push the locals around would be a terrible mistake.

Some 300 Palestinian intellectuals and technocrats are working on nearly 40 committees designing education, sewage and other programs. A philosophy professor named Sari Nusseibeh at Bir Zeit University on the West Bank set up this structure when peace talks began two years ago. Its authenticity is beyond doubt, its expertise invaluable. Mr. Arafat should incorporate these people and their plans into his administration.

Success in these fields would certainly enhance the PLO against the intransigent Hamas organization in Palestinian opinion. Failure would boost Hamas. The two have a shaky truce in Gaza that involves little more than agreeing not to shoot each other's adherents for the time being.

The major paradox of the initial agreement persists: Israel needs to help the PLO be successful, and the PLO needs to protect Israelis. The PLO's self-appointed job is no longer to tear down the Israeli state, but to build up Palestinian civil society. That takes different skills.

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