From Rabat to Algiers
Twenty-four years ago in Rabat, Morocco, the Arab League passed the celebrated "three nos" resolution: no peace, no recognition, no negotiations with Israel. Despite the ambiguities in the declaration issued recently in Algiers by the Palestine National Council, it is widely believed that the Palestine Liberation Organization may have finally come to the unavoidable conclusion that the only way to realize the national aspirations of the Palestinian people is to recognize Israel's right to exist.
In that sense, the PLO has indeed come a long way from Rabat to Algiers. Since the PLO's inception in 1964, political fragmentation and ideological divisions have prevented it from forming a cohesive, unambiguous policy toward Israel. Unfortunately, that same divisiveness and equivocation was very much reflected in the Algiers declaration.
The dissenting voices of Dr. George Habash, head of the Marxist-oriented Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and Nayef Hawatmeh, leader of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, echoed throughout the conference rooms. Thus, even acceptance of U.N. Security Council Resolution 242, which implicitly recognizes Israel's right to exist and constitutes the cornerstone for any future negotiations, was made in the context of a demand for an international peace conference and not on its own merits.
Yet, these ambiguities must not overshadow the positive step taken in Algiers. As British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher told President Reagan recently, "When people do things we like, we should welcome them." Her spokesman, Bernard Ingham, describing the Algiers move, added, "Here is something she would argue to build on."
PLO moderation must be further encouraged. The moderates' victory in Algiers over the hard-liners cannot be sustained for long unless the PLO receives some positive, albeit cautious feedback, especially from the United States. However, as an aide to president-elect Bush stated, "The only way the U.S. can take seriously the PLO documents is if it is followed by concrete action." The PLO should move to translate the political agenda adopted in Algiers into concrete action that includes:
* The total cessation of terrorist activities in and outside the administered territories.
* Encouraging the leaders of the uprising in the West Bank and Gaza to resort to political demonstrations rather than stone throwing, which precipitates violence.
* Opposing efforts by PLO extremists bent on undermining reconciliation.
* Moving from generalities and ambiguities to explicit recognition of Israel's right to exist.
* Removing from the PLO Charter any reference that calls for the destruction of Israel.
Moreover, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, which supported the Algiers declaration, must put continuous pressure on PLO Chairman Yasir Arafat to stay the course of moderation.
The paradox of Middle East politics is that when one side show flexibility, the other hardens its position. The PLO has made what may be judged a historic move toward peace, while Israel is about to form a new coalition government that leans distinctly further to the right. Even though the leadership of both major parties, Likud and Labor, rejected the Algiers declaration, it must be remembered that 58 percent of Israel's electorate backed parties that either favor or would consider giving up part of the administered territories for peace.
The Israelis, however, will not respond in kind to the PLO's overtures unless they are absolutely convinced that the Palestinians want peace and not piecemeal territorial gains. It would be the ultimate folly for the PLO or anyone else to assume that the United States can force Israel to make concessions that Israelis consider detrimental to their national security.
The international political climate is conducive to the peaceful resolution of regional conflicts; and both the Soviet Union and the United States can play pivotal roles in advancing the course of peace in the Middle East. It took 24 years to change the Rabat "three nos" to an ambiguous "three yeses" in Algiers. It would be tragic if either Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir or Arafat condemns another generation of young Israelis and Palestinians to live with fear, mutual hatred and bloodshed.
In the final analysis, neither Israelis nor Palestinians will disappear from the map of the Middle East. They are destined to live together, side by side. Only peaceful coexistence under separate political authority can make peace possible and lasting.