Israelis and Palestinians: Realism and the Option for Peace
For years, the conventional wisdom about the Middle East has been that peace between Israel and the Palestinians was unlikely in the foreseeable future. That judgment, however, does not take into account the dramatic changes that have taken place in the Middle East since the 1973 Yom Kippur War. These changes led to the historic November 1977 visit of the late President Anwar el Sadat of Egypt to Jerusalem and to a whole new set of perceptions about the situation in the Middle East by both Israel and the Arab states.
The accession of Menachem Begin, then the leader of Israel's Eikud Party, to the position of Prime Minister in May 1977 and the renewal of his party's mandate in June 1981, signaled a radical departure from the old Labor Party thinking on the entire spectrum of issues affecting the Arab-Israeli conflict. This new political outlook paved the way for major breakthroughs in negotiations, leading to the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty and the framework for peace in the Middle East agreed to at Camp David.
The Begin government's military policy also broke with the past: Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1982 left the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) in near-total disarray and forced its leaders to rethink their options about future confrontations with Israel. The war in Lebanon also drove the point home to every Israeli that military might is only one means among many to a political solution, and that a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict cannot be found by military means alone.
All these developments have had, in turn, a profound impact on Jordan's King Hussein, who has since gone public with what he has been tacitly seeking since 1967: a negotiated resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Although the 1987 talks between King Hussein and PLO chief Yassir Arafat led to no specific agreement, a tacit, de facto, choice of peace – not war – with Israel has become the basis for inter-Arab dialogue. Jordan's call for an International Peace Conference on the Middle East (with Palestinian representation) has given further substance to the call for peace.
The Arab states summit held in Amman, November 1987, provided a clear confirmation that Iran, not Israel, is now seen as the real threat to Arab stabilitv. Furthermore, implicit in the efforts of Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and other Gulf states to bring Egypt back to the Arab League's fold is the unambiguous message that it is now acceptable policy to make peace with Israel. Finally, although the Arab summit held in Algiers in June 1988 was far more hostile toward both Israel and the United States, the heads of the Arab states reaffirmed that only a negotiated settlement under the auspices of a U.N.-sponsored international conference can provide a lasting solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. These major developments in conjunction with the many other "secret" contacts and discussions between the two sides clearly indicate the old antagonists' new attitudes toward each other, and go a long way toward establishing the principle of co-existence in their relationship.
Consequently, other Arab countries and factions, regardless of political coloration, have also come to accept the fact of Israel's existence. Certainly, the Egyptian act of peacemaking could neither be denied nor explained away by Egypt's Arab brethren: the fact that the central Arab State had done the unthinkable was bound to affect the Arab world profoundly.
The immediate collective Arab reaction was one of shock, horror, and shame. At a deeper level, however, the Egyptians had forced recognition of a reality the others had hitherto found impossible to accept. Thereafter co-existence with Israel was no longer one of many options, but the only option remaining unless both sides were willing to accept perpetual military confrontation, something which the Arabs could not win and Israel could not sustain without unending, massive national sacrifice and hardship.
In addition, the changed political and military scenario of the Arab-Israeli conflict has had yet another important consequence. Inasmuch as the core of the conflict is seen as being between Israel and the Palestinians, the 1967 Six Day War made the Palestinian issue even more of a domestic: Israeli issue than it had been previously. There are now, since 1967, more Palestinians living within Israel proper and in the West Bank and the Gaza District than there are in all the Arab countries, including Jordan combined. As the riots and violence which began in December 1987 demonstrated with brutal vividness, this demographic fact has major significance not only for the Israelis but for the Palestinians themselves. Hence, it is hardly surprising that the Palestinians have come to the conclusion that since Israel cannot be defeated by military means and neither the Arab states nor the PLO can effect a solution, an indigenous movement of violent confrontation is their last remaining option. That option may, of course, turn out to be another dead end, but the point is that by their actions, the Palestinians in the occupied territories have, in fact, cemented the transformation of their problem into an "internal" Israeli crisis, thereby forcing Israel's attention toward solutions its leaders have long avoided contemplating.
The last 20 years, by chance or choice, have made Israeli-Palestinian co-existence an irreversible fact of life, one that cannot be altered by military lines or wished away by expedient political arrangements. Moreover, realism dictates that such a solution can not be successfully implemented unless it takes into account not only the national aspirations of both peoples, but also the new realities which dictate continued social and economic Israeli-Palestinian intercourse.
In sum, I maintain that not withstanding the failure of Secretary of State George Shultz to bring both sides to the negotiating table during his renewed shuttle diplomacy, Israelis, Palestinians, Syrians, and Jordanians are presently faced with a new set of psychological, military, socio-economic, political, and demographic conditions which, taken together, could make peace possible. I contend that these new dynamics could not only operate to help resolve the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, but might lead to a peaceful solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict itself.
No astute observer, however, could realistically assume for a moment that all the prerequisites for an Israeli-Palestinian peace have now been met, and that all that remains is for someone to get the two sides to sign a peace treaty.
The fact of the matter is that given the history, experience, and the contexts of the conflict, some realities cannot be changed unless either or both sides are prepared to commit themselves to perpetual bloody conflict and suffering or even national suicide. The Palestinians have lived and will continue to live in the West Bank and the Gaza District. Israel, whether by act of Providence or as a result of historical cirumstances, has re-established itself as a human, political, and juridical fact; it exists and will continue to exist. Both sides claim the same land and each to its own mind has unequivocal and undisputed claims to justice from the other. Such are the hardcore realities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and both sides understand them, and now both sides must come to terms with them.
An unemotional, careful review of the following 10 factors in the conflict must make it inescapably clear that only co-existence under separate political authority can fulfill the national aspirations of both peoples. Taken together these realities have created a new set of conditions compelling both sides to come to grips with their plight.
1) Because of the demographic realities of the situation, Israel can no longer think of formally annexing the West Bank and the Gaza District if it hopes to remain a Jewish State. Israel was created to provide a homeland for a people who have been dispersed and persecuted for centuries. Israel was founded as a Jewish State; a Jewish majority is seen as politically essential to maintaining its democratic values. The annexation of the occupied territories will of necessity create at best a bi-national state and thereby nullify the principles on which Israel was founded, and at worst, a repressive state with two classes of citizens.
2) No sane Israeli can advocate maintaining the current situation, with more than 1.5 million Palestinians (over 60 per cent of the total Palestinian population) born a few years before and since 1967 who know nothing but occupation, deprivation, and despair and are now committed to throwing off the yoke of Israeli military control. The Palestinian uprising – the so-called intifadeh that began in December 1987 – has driven this point home to every Israeli including the hardliners who advocate the use of the "iron fist" to quell the violence. The extremes to which the Israeli army has sometimes gone in its attempts to restore order, as well as the violent response of some Israeli settlers on the West Bank, is clear witness both to the fact that Israelis understand the gravity of the unrest and that continued military occupation has become unacceptable.
3) Although some Israelis on the extreme right have advocated the expulsion of Palestinians from the occupied territories, no responsible Israeli leader, and certainly not the vast majority of Israelis, would seriously consider exiling the Palestinians, even if it were logistically possible and there were no serious international repercussions. The moral basis of Israeli society makes such an "option" unthinkable.
4) The last 21 years have created a new set of socio-economic conditions that make co-existence imperative. Each side has come to depend on the other's resources, both human and material, and could not easily relinquish the benefits of mutual cooperation. Moreover, the existence of nearly 700,000 Palestinians in Israel proper who are also full-fledged Israeli citizens, makes socio-economic disengagement from the rest of the Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza impossible. Furthermore, today some 90,000 Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza work in Israel and another estimated 60,000 rely on the Israeli economy for their livelihood.
5) The majority of Israelis have strong cultural, religious, psychological, and emotional ties to the land of their ancestors. This affinity with the land of their forebears cannot be negotiated. This is why no Israeli leader from either the left or right can even contemplate the total dismantling of all Israeli settlements in the West Bank and the Gaza District, even for the sake of peace. What is clearly negotiable, however, is the juridical status of the Israelis in the West Bank, limits on their numbers, and the ownership of the West Bank land sequestered by the Israeli government but not yet settled by Israelis.
6) Although the question of rule over most of the land in the West Bank and the Gaza District could be open for discussion under the general framework for peace, from the Israeli standpoint a united Jerusalem as Israel's capital remains non-negotiable. The Israelis understand that the permanent unification of East and West Jerusalem will not jeopardize the Arabs' absolute right to direct their own religious and cultural affairs without Israeli interference, as has been the practice for the last 21 years. No Israeli government, if it wished to remain a government, could seriously contemplate returning the Old City and what used to be East Jerusalem to Arab, not to speak of Jordanian, rule. Older proposals for "internationalizing" Jerusalem, to which Israel acquiesced at one time, became completely unthinkable after the June 1967 war.
7) Israel has become a major military power and cannot be defeated by the Arab states either by conventional military means or through a protracted war of attrition. Moreover, Israel has solidified its position among the family of nations and has become a regional power (possibly a nuclear one) to be reckoned with – even by the superpowers themselves. This means that those who want solutions to the Palestinian problem, Arabs or external friends and/or enemies, must deal directly with the Israeli State as a full-fledged sovereign entity.
8) The Palestinians' national aspiration for some sort of political autonomy has been accepted in principle by the majority of the Israelis and certainly by the international community. The Palestinians are no longer seen as mere refugees (U.N. Resolution 242) but as a people with the right to self-determination. To deny this reality, however unpalatable, of a Palestinian political community with its own national aspirations is to be willfully blind to one of the most painful consequences of 40 years of Arab-Israeli conflict.
9) Any formula for a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute must fall within the spirit of U.N. Resolution 242, which remains the bedrock on which general peace in the Middle East is to be constructed. Resolution 242 has been frequently re-affirmed by references in many subsequent U.N. resolutions, and thus has the support of all relevant actors involved in the Arab-Israeli dispute. Though 242 refers to the Palestinians as "refugees," Israel no longer insists on the literal meaning of the term, and has thus opened the door to negotiations with the Palestinians as a collective entity.
10) Finally, after four decades and five wars, the Palestinians have come to the conclusion that neither the Arab states nor the PLO (through the use of terrorism) can coerce Israel into resolving the Palestinian problem exclusively on Arab or Palestinian terms. Moreover, terrorism has run its course and is no longer seen as an effective means by which the Palestinians can validate their national claim. And in the long-run, civil unrest is equally fruitless. The Palestinians and their leaders must now confront this reality and reassess their strategy for the future.
These are the realities of the present Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Although some of the conditions of the conflict may change, the factors enumerated above are not subject to dramatic change. Both Israel and the Palestinian people have (albeit tacitly) accepted each other's right to exist politically free of one another. It is this acceptance in principle, supported by realities that took 40 years to crystalize, that will eventually make peace possible.
Any realistic framework for peace must, therefore, include two critical components: 1) Palestinian political autonomy and 2) the Israeli Jewish right to "settle" in the West Bank under a negotiated formula. Any thorough review of the whole range of issues and realities surrounding Israeli-Palestinian relations inevitably leads to the conclusion that only co-existence under separate political authority can meet the national aspirations of both peoples. Second, the point must be stressed that Jewish right to "settle" in the West Bank does not negate or compromise Palestinian national aspirations, be these for self-determination or any other form of political self-expression.
Jews and Palestinian Arabs today live in the same territory and will have no choice but to do so under conditions of mutual respect for each other's political independence. This will continue to be the case unless the Israelis expel all 2.5 million Palestinian Arabs presently residing in Israel and the occupied territories, or the Arabs achieve ajudenrein Palestine by completely dismantling the State of Israel. The Palestinians could adopt a strategy of bi-nationalism, though this would be totally inconsistent with the PLO's and the Jordanians' own long-held political positions and goals and unacceptable to the vast majority of Israelis. None of these alternatives are palatable or feasible, despite the devout wishes of extremists in both camps.
After 40 years and five wars, the conflict between Israel and its Arab neighbors has brought Israel a measure of permanence and real, though grudging, acceptance by the Arabs as a state in its own right. Israel has reached detente, a kind of uneasy, armed co-existence with the Arab states which, while uncomfortable, promises to last because no one Arab state or combination of states can hope to defeat Israel by force of arms. Yet co-existence with its neighbors has proved easier for Israel to attain than co-habitation with the Arabs at home. Family quarrels, particularly those involving basic rights of life and property, are always more intractable and often more violent than those with neighbors.
The irony of the situation is that while Israel has never been more secure internationally, its very existence is now threatened by one of the legacies of its victories: the Palestinian problem. What was a "problem" for over 40 years has become a "crisis," and the crisis offers a unique opportunity to both Israelis and Palestinians to confront the social, economic, and political realities of the conflict and to choose a path leading to peaceful rather than hostile, co-existence. The signposts on that path are the principles on which peaceful co-existence must rest; each in turn reflects one or more of the realities discussed in the previous pages. What is important to stress is that the principles themselves are not in dispute, but how they are put into effect becomes the substance of negotiation.
Any formula for a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will have to be based on U.N. Resolution 242. This resolution constitutes the basis on which peace between Israel and the Arab states, as well as between Israel and the Palestinians must be constructed. Resolution 242 provided, in large measure, the basis for the Camp David accord between Israel and Egypt in 1978. Territory for peace with secure borders was the hallmark of the peace treaty that was subsequently achieved between Israel and Egypt in 1979. Moreover, Resolution 242 has been frequently re-affirmed by references in many subsequent U.N. resolutions.
In fact, all the relevent actors involved in the Arab-Israeli dispute accepted the resolution. Although 242 refers to the Palestinians as "refugees," Israel has come to accept a more liberal interpretation of the term. Accordingly, the acceptance of 242 by the representatives of the Palestinians, whether the PLO or any other designated representative, will no longer be seen as accepting the status of the Palestinians as refugees, but as a full-fledged nation with rights and aspirations of its own.
Obviously the constant rivalry and infighting among the PLO's various factions inhibit the more moderate elements, including Arafat, from accepting 242 without reservations. What Arafat is seeking, however, is a psychological victory in the form of acceptance by Israel, of the PLO as the legitimate and the sole representative of the Palestinian people. In other words, it is widely believed that if Israel were to agree to negotiate with whoever is willing to negotiate on behalf of the Palestinians – including the PLO – Arafat (as its chief) would then be justified in accepting U.N. Resolution 242 and entering into the negotiation unconditionally. In this respect Israel should demonstrate creativity by declaring its readiness to negotiate with whoever the Palestinians appoint, provided that they renounce the use of violence so long as the negotiations are in progress.
Resolution 242 cannot be invoked between parties of unequal status. The U.S. thus is correct in refusing to deal with the PLO prior to its acceptance of Resolution 242. By the same token the U.S. must also insist that Israel should not dictate with whom it will or will not negotiate, provided that all prerequisites are met, namely – acceptance of 242, renunciation of all acts of violence, and acceptance of Israel as a legitimate, sovereign state. Those Israelis who believe they can negotiate a settlement with the Palestinians without the PEO are either naive or totally misguided.
The Arab summit meeting in Algiers in June 1988 re-affirmed that the PLO is the only legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. That statement was not made merely to please Arafat, but made to underscore the fact that the PLO is indeed the address to which all vital matters related to the Palestinian people must be directed. Israel must view U.N. Resolution 242 not as an obstacle but a vehicle to peace, utilizing every advantage that it offers. But what 242 does not offer is the right of any of the parties involved to choose the representative of their adversary. Israel has a golden opportunity to throw the ball into the Palestinians' court by accepting any representatives chosen by the Palestinians provided they adhere to the spirit of Resolution 242 and other provisions as stated above.
Although Hussein made an international peace conference on the Middle East one of the main prerequisites for negotiations with Israel, such a conference sponsored by five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council can also provide Israel with the same kind of umbrella (or even protection) that Jordan is seeking. Why should such a conference become an adversary forum for Israel? What Israel should be seeking is not how to avoid such a conference, but how to utilize it to its best advantage. Israel should clearly state its position by making its participation conditional upon the following:
a) The mandate of the five permanent member states should be limited to facilitating bilateral negotiations between Israel and Palestinians – Jordanians, Syrians – and to provide the necessary means to insure the implementation of any agreements achieved bilaterally.
b) There should be no imposition of a solution by any of the powers on any of the participants under any circumstances.
c) No punitive action shoud be taken against any of the participants in the conference should they reject any proposed solution.
d) The parties should negotiate freely and directly without pressure or intimidation.
e) There should be no act or threat of violence by any of the participants as long as the conference and/or the bilateral negotiations are in progress.
f) The Soviet Union and The People's Republic of China must restore full diplomatic relations with Israel not only to reaffirm Israeli political sovereignty but also to restore Israeli confidence that the Soviet Union and China intend to play constructive roles during the negotiation. The Soviet Union, in fact, has already indicated its willingness to restore full diplomatic relations with Israel provided Israel accepts the idea of an international conference.
None of these Israeli pre-conditions for the international peace conference seem unreasonable. Israel cannot be expected to participate in a conference to determine its future security and well being when the question of its own sovereignty and right to exist remain open.
By adopting these positions, Israel will no longer be seen as an obstacle to peace, but as a country genuinely seeking peace provided that it is not required to compromise its national security by participating in the international conference in the first place. Under these conditions why should or would conferences such as this compromise Israel? If the Soviets or any of the Arab states and the PLO refuse to join in the negotiations under these conditions, that is their prerogative. They, not Israel, could then appear as an obstacle to peace. Israel must always remain open to negotiations as long as the pre-conditions for convening the international peace conference are met.
From the Jordanians' viewpoint an international peace conference can provide the protective political umbrella necessary for King Hussein's political maneuvering and possibly, for his own personal survival. Those who better understand the psychological dimension of the Arab-Israeli conflict appreciate the King's dilemma. Hussein sought and received the collective Arab mandate to enter into negotiations with Israel under certain conditions. The demand for an international peace conference provides the King not only with a "pretext" for bilateral negotiations with Israel, but also a "shield" that can protect him regardless of the outcome of the conference.
Hussein has been and will continue to be pulled and pushed by both internal and external dynamics that limit his freedom of action. Unlike Sadat (who was assassinated for his boldness), Hussein must satisfy his neighbors Syria, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia, as well as his own population, of which 60 percent are Palestinians. Otherwise, to enter into bilateral negotiations with Israel will mean nothing less than the kiss of death. The Israeli leadership should appreciate Hussein's predicament. Unfortunately in this respect, the Likud leadership has become captive to its old positions and public pronouncements.
One other critically important aspect of the international peace conference is the role and the vested interests that the U.S. and the Soviet Union have in the Middle East. Although the preconditions for convening such a conference will have to include guarantees against the imposition of a solution or the taking of punitive action by the superpowers in case of failure to reach an agreement, no solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict can endure unless it is sanctioned by the super powers.
Clearly, neither the United States nor the Soviet Union would relinquish any of their strategic interests in the region for the sake of an Arab-Israeli peace. In the past, the Soviet Union fully capitalized on the Arab-Israeli conflict and was able to solidify its position in Syria, Libya, North Yemen, and Iraq because of the enmity of these states to Israel. Now, with the more enlightened approach of Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachov, the Soviet Union seems interested more in reconciliation than confrontation. By participating in any future international peace conference, the Soviet Union can not only enhance its position in the area, but could also persuade its clients (especially Syria and the PLO) to be more conciliatory.
Any Israeli leader who fails to understand the significance of a future Soviet role in the peace process is again willfully blind to one of the most basic realities of the Middle East. To be sure, the dynamics for peaceful negotiations are still in the making and U.N. Resolution 242 will for many years continue to provide the basis for negotiations. The question is how soon a new and visionary leadership will come forth in both Israel and among the Palestinians to take that first step toward real peace.
The third prerequisite to peace between Israel and the Palestinians, independent of or in conjunction with Jordan, is that any agreement between the parties must be juridically binding and freely negotiated.
All parties to the conflict, including and especially Israel and the Palestinians, know that unless the agreement is freely negotiated it will not withstand the on-slaught by the extremists on both sides who do not accept co-existence under separate political authority as a viable option. Moreover, any agreement that does not satisfy the national aspirations of both sides will be subject to hostile attack by the majority in both camps and thus undermined before it ever becomes effective. For these reasons the format under which the negotiations take place and the framework of the negotiations will have to be governed by the above two prerequisites and become an integral part of the negotiations themselves.
For any accord to succeed it must grant the Palestinians the right to determine their own fate, provided the way that self-determination is exercised remains consistent with the principle of peaceful co-existence with Israel under separate political authority. At any event, the Palestinian community in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip must exercise self-determination as an inviolable right. Israel's rights as an occupying power ends with the conclusion of a settlement with the Palestinian community and in exchange for such a binding agreement, Israel will formally abandon any attempt to either annex the West Bank and the Gaza District or exercise any sovereign prerogative in the two territories. The nature of the political institutions within which the Palestinians will exercise their right for self-determination is to be defined and decided upon in the negotiations. Since the experience of past Arab-Israeli relations is fraught with distrust and suspicion, all of which will inevitably make the negotiating process inherently difficult, slow, and frustrating, the Palestinians and Israel must allay each other's concerns by agreeing on a transitional period.
Such a period should provide both sides with the necessary time to build such safety valves into the agreement as will promote a mutually vested interest in adhering to the agreement. For example, in keeping with the principle of the Palestinians' self-determination, Israel would abolish the military government in the West Bank and the Gaza District. A transitional period, say of five years, would be established. Immediately upon signing the agreement, the Palestinians would be able to elect their own administrative council. The rules and regulations about elections to and membership in the administrative council would be decided by the Palestinians themselves, provided for example that anyone who advocated violent confrontation with Israel will be barred from nomination.
The agreement might also stipulate that all administrative affairs relating to Arab residents of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip would be under the jurisdiction of the administrative council, a suggestion already made by former Prime Minister Begin in his preface to the statement for Palestinian autonomy submitted to the Knesset on December 28, 1977.
What would be the competence of the administration council? It might well operate and administer and deal with such matters as: education, religious affairs, finance, transportation, construction and housing, industry, commerce, tourism, agriculture, health, labor and social welfare, and the rehabilitation of refugees. In addition, security might be turned over to a Palestinian police force, and the administration of justice to a Palestinian magistracy. During the transitional period Israel would gradually withdraw its forces from the territories according to a schedule to be agreed upon in the negotiations. Since the security arrangements during and after the transitional period are likely to be of utmost importance to both Israel and the Palestinians, internal security would be handed over to the Palestinians in a number of controlled stages. However, the entire West Bank and Gaza would have to remain demilitarized zones.
The agreement might also leave open the option for the new Palestinian entity to enter freely into confederation with Jordan; however, the Palestinians would have no right to enter into any military or political alliance with other states in or outside the area without explicit Israeli agreement. The U.S. and the Soviet Union would guarantee the new arrangements and insure, together with Israel and Jordan, the security of the new Palestinian entity.
The Palestinians could adopt any political system they deemed suitable to their needs, provided (perhaps) that any political party advocating violence or outright hostility toward Israel or Jordan would be barred from participating in the new institutions. In all other respects the Palestinians should run their internal and external affairs as they see fit. Upon signing of the agreement, Israel and the Palestinians would appoint a joint commission to investigate ways of expanding and developing trade, culture, art, commerce, travel, and setting up all the necessary mechanisms to control the movement of population from either side's territorial domain.
The right of the Jews to settle in the West Bank and the Gaza District is inviolable. The terms under which this right is to be exercised will be decided in the negotiations; however, there are any number of equitable formulas that might work. For example, it can be decided that the number of Jewish settlers in the West Bank and the Gaza would not at any time exceed 20 percent of the Palestinian Arab population. It would be understood that as the Palestinians increase in number so would Jewish settlers, in direct proportion. The political status of Jewish settlers would be negotiable. They might, opt a) to retain their Israeli citizenship and therefore be barred from voting or running for office in their place of residence; b) to become citizens of the new Palestinian entity; or c) perhaps to be granted dual citizenship and be eligible to exercise political and civic rights both in Israel and in the Palestinian entity. At any event, whatever rules may be established for Jews living in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip will be applicable to the Palestinian Arabs living in Israel.
The idea behind such a formula is not only to satisfy the need for some Israeli Jews to live in and have access to their ancient homeland, but also to avoid the possibility that at any time in the future, either the Palestinians or the Israelis might attain demographic majority in each other's territorial domain. The Lebanese tragedy still provides a vivid example of the horrors that can flow from demographic imbalance.
To divide political power between the Israelis and the Palestinians would create an intolerable situation for both communities and in any case, would be simply unworkable. However, as long as the Jews remain a minority in a Palestinian entity and the Palestinians remain a minority in Israel, there will be no rivalry for power and certainly no covert or overt effort by force or otherwise to undermine what is constitutionally guaranteed.
Those who might frown at this possibility should consider that while the Palestinians will in due course exercise their national aspirations for political autonomy over the West Bank, there is no reason why Jewish settlements cannot be consistent with Palestinian autonomy. The existence of scores of Arab villages in Israel does not negate Israeli sovereignty over its own national territory. There are more than 600,000 Palestinians currently living in Israel, and normally they have been able to live in peace with their Israeli neighbors. Not only do they provide a clear-cut example of what is possible, but they demonstrate how co-existence has become an established fact for hundreds of thousands of Israelis and Palestinians. So long as a demographic balance can be maintained between Palestinians and Israelis, and agreements are made that define the rights of each community, why should the presence of 60,000, 70,000 or even 100,000 Jews who might want to live in the West Bank and the Gaza District cause any more anxiety than the fact of Palestinians living in Israel?
The point that must be made abundantly clear is that co-existence is a fundamental requisite for peace. Therefore, no peace formula that contemplates the total separation of Israelis and Palestinians is possible. Moreover, from all indications, the general consensus in both camps is that co-existence is not only dictated by existing conditions, but that it has also become a desirable fact of life.
The Palestinians who seek the removal of all Israeli Jews from the West Bank will not be able to settle the conflict through negotiation or violence. And the Israelis who feel that they can freely annex the territories on which Israeli settlements have been built, will also find the goal of peace just as elusive. This is the crux of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Only mutual concessions on the settlement question will make peaceful co-existence possible.
The eventual status of Jerusalem may turn out to be much easier to deal with than many political observers of the Arab-Israeli scene have thought. From the Israeli viewpoint, the status of united Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is not negotiable; however, the juridical status of the non-Jews, particularly Palestinians residing in Jerusalem, is open to discussion, as is the institutional framework within which that status is exercised in united Jerusalem. The issue of Jerusalem and its final status transcends both the Israelis' and the Palestinians' political positions. World Jewry, and most certainly of the Arab-Moslem world, will not relinquish its right to worship freely and administer its own holy shrines.
In this respect, Israel has made itself very clear both in words and in deeds. The right of free access to and worship at the holy places sacred to Jews, Muslims, Christians, and other religious communities is inviolable whether these places are located in Jerusalem and other Israeli locations, or in the West Bank and the Gaza District. What has been the practice in Jerusalem for the last 21 years will become a part of the peace agreement between the two sides. Any visitor to any of the holy places in Jerusalem can confirm that the Moslems and any other religious group have total and complete jurisdiction over their holy places. Moreover, Israel has taken every precaution to insure that no individual or group can ever interfere in the administration of the holy shrines. Israel will never compromise its position on Jerusalem. This is one issue over which there is total and absolute Israeli agreement.
The bloody uprising of the Palestinian youth in the Gaza District and in the West Bank that began in December 1987 offers either an opportunity for a major political breakthrough or a prelude to a full-fledged civil war that will undo the gains of the last four decades. Although the toll has been heavy – five wars and terrorist activities which have claimed the lives of thousands – in the final analysis, Israel has succeeded in gaining the acceptance of the Arab states, as exemplified by the peace treaty in Egypt and, more tacitly, by the 1987 Amman Arab League Summit.
A realistic appraisal of the Palestinians' situation makes it clear that they, too, have succeeded. They have also sustained massive human and material losses, brought by both "friend" and foe to dislocation, humiliation, and abuse – to which the refugee camps are continuing testimony. Yet the Palestinians have brought their cause to the attention of the international community; their outcry was finally heeded. The national aspirations of the Palestinians for political autonomy is and has been endorsed not only by the international community but also now by growing Israeli circles who feel that Israel's present policies are unacceptable and that Palestinian political autonomy represents, in the final analysis, the least of all possible evils.
The crux of the matter is this: a choice between co-existence or gradual, almost assured mutual destruction. There are no middle alternatives. Clearly, the choices are limited. On the one hand, maintenance of indefinite Israeli rule will not be tolerated by this generation of Palestinians, and certainly not by the next. And, on the other, to exclude a Jewish presence from the Jews' ancient home will not be accepted by a country that has sacrificed the blood of its best young men and women to realize a two thousand-year-old dream. If this Israeli generation forfeits its rights, the next will not.
Those who carry the burden and the privileges of leadership on both sides have the solemn responsibility to utilize every political advantage that circumstance can possibly provide. However, leaders must also have a vision. Without a vision, opportunities are lost in confusion and the pursuit of vain objectives.