Palestinian Autonomy at Last

May 05, 1994

As PLO police enter and Israeli troops leave Gaza and Jericho, Palestinians will see that the long-delayed implementation of the Israel-PLO agreement is real. What so many have waited for so long has begun.

This ought to raise Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat's standing with Palestinians and the Arab world. It was sinking so long as his people thought he had made concessions about Israel's legitimacy without ridding Palestinians of Israeli rule. It should rise as the Israeli presence begins to recede.

With implementation, the five year period in which to consider final status under the 1978 Camp David accord begins. It is likely that negotiations on the question of sovereignty will commence two years from now, with the Rabin government still in power in Israel.

For now, implementation is everything. The PLO must show it is up to the most unglamorous aspects of governing. Israel must make good on its word to withdraw and release prisoners. Whether the Israeli public will approve what is happening enough to support further stages will depend on the PLO's will and ability to prevent terrorism where it rules.

Terrorist groups will continue to operate as best they can from the Israeli-occupied West Bank, but in Gaza it is the job of the PLO to stop them. That will entail cooperation between the PLO and Israeli security forces.

The spotlight moves now from the PLO to Syria. The next big agreement must be a peace accord between Israel and Syria. U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher's shuttle between Jerusalem and Damascus will resume. A United States role is necessary to bring Syrian dictator Hafez el Assad into camp.

Both sides know that peace between them requires virtually total evacuation of the Golan Heights by Israel and full security and total recognition of Israel by Syria. An end to terrorism against Israel from Syria and Lebanon is part of that. Phases of withdrawal taking years, electronic surveillance and demilitarization might be considered. Yet the distrust is so great that neither side would concede before the other.

For Mr. Assad, who has lost the former Soviet Union's patronage, an understanding with the United States is vital. The PLO and Israel found they could best reach fundamental agreement at Oslo with the U.S. absent. Between Syria and Israel, the U.S. is essential.

Mr. Assad had to cool his heels while the Israel-PLO accord was reached. Now others will do the same as Israel and the United States focus on the Syrian connection. The circle of peace is nearer to completion.


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