Palestinian Self-Rule Begins

May 22, 1994

Nobody turned in guns. People shouted requests in learned Hebrew to officials who listened only in Arabic. Nobody knows what laws are in force, Ottoman, British, Egyptian, Jordanian or Israeli. The post office opened without stamps. The governing council is not in place. Violence occurred. Police made their first arrests. The intifada, or civil rebellion, in some ways continued ignoring its own success. Almost everyone is terribly happy, and equally apprehensive.

Autonomy or PLO rule, depending on one's viewpoint, has begun in Gaza and Jericho.

Some 850,000 Gazans and 15,000 residents of Jericho on the West Bank saw the Israelis depart, and PLO-Fatah policemen enter. To the extent that services such as sanitation, water and schools continued, it was because civil servants who had taken Israeli orders stayed at their posts. Israel will pay them through May.

The security of some 5,000 Israeli settlers in Gaza is now the responsibility of the PLO police. But the Israeli army remains nearby. And the PLO has to make autonomy work -- in all respects including security for Israelis -- if it wants autonomy extended to the whole West Bank.

Yasser Arafat, the president-presumptive of this embryo state, was off in places like Norway and South Africa making noises about his other demands that required re-translation and clarification to assuage Israeli and U.S. alarm. Just like old days, when he should be learning the sewerage, taxing, education and the nuts and bolts of actually running a real country however small.

Much will depend on the behavior, not the words, of Hamas, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine and other opponents of the accord between Israel and the PLO. Some will continue to operate in the Israel-occupied West Bank, but will any threaten the legitimacy of Gaza-Jericho, thus inviting the Israelis back. The intention of Israeli terrorists also cannot be overlooked.

Proto-Palestine needs a regime of law quickly, because only stable law will entice the foreign investment it needs for the economic development necessary to a political success. The statelet needs competence in the most mundane functions of government, lest Palestinians pine for return of the Israelis.

It needs freedom of discourse and democracy, because while Fatah henchmen of Mr. Arafat in Tunis may not see the need, Palestinians living under the Israeli thumb have been watching the give and take of Israeli politics on Israeli television for 27 years and expect to be consulted on their own needs now that they are liberated.

Difficult as negotiating the Israel-PLO accord seemed, it was the easy part. Making it work is the hard part. The key is Israel-PLO cooperation and, beyond that, Palestinian competency and unity.

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