George Shultz was right when he barred PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat from entering the United States to address the U.N. General Assembly, and he is equally on target now that he has opened a dialogue with the same PLO. The Israelis, who lauded the first decision but are lamenting the second, can blame only themselves for recent developments.
Israel has militarily occupied Judea, Samaria and Gaza since 1967, yet has taken no steps to assert its claim to the territories. While Israelimmediately annexed East Jerusalem, reunifying the city, and subsequently extended Israeli law over the Golan Heights, no such measures were taken in Gaza or Judea and Samaria (the so-called West Bank).
Military occupation, when extended indefinitely, is intolerable in any civilized society. For 21 years Arabs driving the occupied roads have been compelled to display blue license plates, while Jewish residents have yellow plates. When one Arab throws a bomb, the entire village is closed down, sometimes for days. If the army feels that it has found the culprit, frequently it will punish his entire family by blowing up their house.
The situation has been abnormal for too long, and the Israelis have allowed a huge political vacuum to develop by playing a game of cat-and-mouse. We will negotiate with the Palestine Liberation Organization, they said, when the Palestine Liberation Organization recognizes our right to exist, recognizes certain pertinent U.N. resolutions and renounces terrorism as a weapon. Former Prime Minister Menachem Begin explained the thinking that informed those who formulated this game: If the PLO ever acquiesced to these terms, it would no longer be the PLO.
Arafat has now articulated unequivocally just the statements demanded by Israel and co-scripted by Washington. He doesn’t mean a word of it, but no one ever stipulated intent as part of the game’s ground rules. He simply said what he had to say.
The current euphoria over the “new movement in the Middle East” will subside in the months ahead, but Israel will pay a heavy price in public opinion along the way. George Habash, Nayef Hawatmeh and other terrorist leaders will sponsor atrocities, consistent with their rules, and Arafat will equivocate adequately to remain on center stage, even as his cohorts make a mockery of his pronouncements. The PLO will demand a complete and total Israeli withdrawal from Judea, Samaria and Gaza, and the world will find that such demands are unacceptable even to Shimon Peres and the Israeli Labor Party. Just as Anwar Sadat refused to concede one centimeter of the Sinai to Israel, so will the PLO prove incapable of compromise. When the demand is for Israeli “return” of East Jerusalem as a further non-negotiable point, the impossibility of compromise will become manifest to all. Finally, the evacuation of Jews from the Sinai, as Sadat demanded, will not be repeated in Judea and Samaria, where 40,000 of Israel’s most ideological citizens now live. The formation of another national-unity government on Monday is but the first corroboration that Labor (Peres’ softer rhetoric notwithstanding) will ultimately yield no more to Arafat than would Likud.
While the Labor Party has been relatively open, spelling out fundamental principles guiding its approach to the territories’ long-term status, the Likud of Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir has been coy. All along, its goal has been to eventually annex Judea, Samaria and Gaza, and it has advanced toward that dream by buying two decades’ time while “searching for moderate Palestinians.”
The “new movement in the Middle East” will force Likud to clarify its own intentions, too. For Israelis advocating annexation of Judea,Samaria and Gaza — and a concomitant end to the military occupation — Arafat’s words may prove to be a blessing in disguise.