All Writings
February 19, 1995

Let the Palestinians Go!

Polls which show Binyamin Netanyahu's popularity soaring may serve as a pick-me-up, but sooner or later the Likud leader will have to come down to earth. While Prime Minister Rabin may be handicapped by his vacillation and lack of an ultimate solution to the Palestinian predicament, the Likud leader is unlikely to fare any better.

As an alternative to what he calls the "failed Oslo accord," Netanyahu suggests "a new alliance between Israel, Jordan and the Palestinians." Netanyahu maintains that, in his plan, the Palestinians will "get autonomy in all facets of life, with Israel maintaining full responsibility for security and foreign affairs."

Sadly, Netanyahu remains detached from reality. There are no Palestinians who will live long enough to negotiate permanent Israeli occupation under any guise. Moreover, Netanyahu has yet to produce the Palestinian interlocutors who he claims are "disenchanted with Yasser Arafat" and are ready to take the plunge with him.

If elected, Netanyahu will face the same daunting facts of life which have haunted Rabin and his predecessors, and will continue to beleaguer any future prime minister, unless dealt with forthrightly.

There are 900,000 Palestinians in the West Bank, nearly 850,000 in Gaza, and the population is growing at an annual rate of 4 to 5 percent. There are 140,000 Israelis in 130 settlements scattered throughout the West Bank.

Greater Palestinian autonomy, whether under the Oslo accord or Netanyahu's alternative, will of necessity require redeployment of Israeli troops, creating a security nightmare for the government and the settlers.

Netanyahu should remember well the days of the intifada. The "iron fist" policies of the Likud government did little to weaken the Palestinian resolve to throw off the Israeli yoke.

Israel's military might could not end the intifada; it was the Oslo accord, which recognized the imperative for the Israelis and the Palestinians to go their separate ways, that ended the Palestinian revolt.

Inadequate as the Israel-PLO agreement is, it does reflect the changed relationship between Israel and the Palestinians.

It recognized that maintaining Israeli rule in any form had long since become unacceptable. It also ruled out the annexation of the territories – not only because of Palestinian resistance, but because it would, within a decade, obliterate the Jewish character of a democratic Israel.

Finally, the agreement put to rest the absurd, extremist notion of an en-masse expulsion of the Palestinians.

The problem with Rabin is that he speaks of separation to enhance security while refusing to relocate a single settlement. Netanyahu, on the other hand, wants to maintain the occupation under the illusion that the Palestinians will lie down and roll over.

Neither current nor future Israeli governments can change the demographic reality of the Palestinians. Violence will not end on either side unless Israel takes the high moral ground and develops a strategy that will allow the Palestinians to establish their own political entity and live their lives with dignity.

This process must begin with the systematic removal of all the "political" settlements, established during the Likud era, which are a stone's throw from Palestinian population centers. In turn, the Palestinians must forswear violence – a precondition that will enable them to exercise their political independence.

Let the Palestinians go!

Israeli leaders, especially Netanyahu, must be truthful with the Israeli public. Maintaining separate national identities by ethnic and demographic means, and coexistence with full cooperation are not mutually exclusive. Only a combination of the two can create the ideological and pragmatic means to build a lasting peace.