David Newman

(Lead sentence: The existence of passports, stamps, an anthem, a flag and an armed militia are the essential symbols of Palestinian statehood, regardless of whether Israel refers to it as a state or an entity).

The stewardess on the plane returning to Israel comes around with the customs and police forms which have to be filled in by anyone not holding an Israeli passport. The couple sitting in the seats behind me ask whether they have to fill in these forms. They are, they claim, the holders of the new Palestinian Authority travel documents.

I am intrigued and ask to see these documents. They are identical in every respect to an Israeli passport with two small exceptions. The cover of the passport is green, instead of the Israeli dark blue. On the cover of the document is written "The Palestinian Authority".

The stewardess on the Swissair flight is at a loss to answer. She suggests that they fill in the forms and, if this is proved to be unecessary, they can always be discarded. This, she ensures them, is prferable to not filling in the forms and then holding up the rest of the queue while they are asked to do so.

On arriving in Israel, the queues are now segregated. Israeli passport holders can now move quickly through their own line, while foreign passport holders have to go through the regular, and often stringent, security checks. I am intrigued to see what will happen to my Palestinian co-travellers. What line will they stand in? Will their Palestinian "passports" be recognized for what they are or will they be asked to produce travel documents which are recognized by the Israeli authorities.

I am ashamed to admit that, as is often the case, pragmatism overtakes me. I rush through the line, look for my bags and race for the customs in a hurry to get home. I admit it. I am always embarassed when I see the treatment afforded all Palestinians entering the country as contrasted with bona fide Israeli passport holders. Women, children and the elderly are all subject to rigorous security checks and interrogations, when all they want to do is to get home to their families, like the rest of us.

The following day, I receive an interesting package in the post. A Palestinian acquaintance has sent me the two new Palestinian stamps which have been issued by the Palestinian Authority. My son will be delighted. He will have two stamps which none of his friends have in their stamp collections.

The stamps are interesting. One of them bears the imprint of Chairman Arafat and the other has as its background a picture of the El Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. But the stamps are, at the moment, only recognized by the Palestinian Authority. You can send a letter from Gaza to Ramallah, or from Hebron to Jenin but that is as far as it goes.

Sending a letter from the West Bank to Israel or to any other point on the globe has become more, rather than less, complicated. In the past, residents of the territories relied on the Israeli postal service and used Israeli stamps. Today, the Israeli postal authorities no longer operate within the Autonomy Areas. Palestinians wishing to send letters abroad have to find a way of bringing their letters into Israel and having them sent on >from there.

The existence, but limited use, of the passports and the stamps highlight the fact that while the Palestinians are creating all the symbols of statehood - they already have a flag, an anthem and an armed militia - Israel still refuses to recognize the Palestinian autonomy areas as anything but an entity. An "entity" is something which is undefined, but is not, as far as Israel is concerned a "state".

But whatever the eventual territorial configuration, the Palestinian entity will formally be recognized as a state. When the time comes, and the Palestinians apply to the United Nations for full membership, it is obvious that there will be an overwhelming international vote in favour of recognizing the de jure sovereignty of the Palestinian state.

The debate over Palestinian statehood is now part of the accepted discourse within Israel, and it has even been implicitly recognized by such right wing hawks as Minister Ariel Sharon and Prime Minister Netanyahu's advisor, David Bar Ilan. It is no longer a debate about the existence of such an entity that is important. Instead, it is the behaviour of that entity/state which is important. Will it threaten Israel or will it cooperate in a neighbourly and correct fashion? Will the economic and other links which are so essential for regional stability be allowed to come to the fore?

It will not be long before the Israeli customs recognizes a Stamps and travel documents may constitute the minutae of daily behaviour, but more than anything else they are the symbols of normalcy and stability which are the expected end results of the long and arduos search for peace in this troubled region.

The writer is Professor of Political Geography and Director of the Humphrey Institute for Social Research at Ben Gurion University of the Negev.

-- * "If you want peace, work for justice." -- Pope Paul VI/Reinhold Niebuhr * "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing." -- Edmund Burke ************************************************** Wael M. Ahmed University of Kentucky Phone:(606)273-3122 E-mail: wmahme00@pop.uky.edu World Wide Web Page: http://sac.uky.edu/~wmahme00/ **************************************************