No Sovereignty, No Peace

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By Stephen S. Rosenfeld

Friday, August 15, 1997

Page A25 The Washington Post

Binyamin Netanyahu has altered the terms of Middle East diplomacy in a way that confirms and protects his ruling Likud Party's reluctance to yield much territory and any sovereignty to the Palestinians. Bill Clinton and his diplomats give scant sign of addressing the implications of the change. Their innocence makes American policy increasingly prone to irrelevance. In the old days, the terms of the Israeli-Palestinian struggle were territory and peace. The Israelis would give up captured territory, the Palestinians would settle into a normal relationship. Israel's Labor Party nailed these terms into the Oslo interim agreement of 1993, whose results Clinton hailed on the South Lawn. Now, however, there is no more talk of territory for peace -- the basic deal that the company of nations has always embraced. The promise of Israel returning territory has been quietly moved off the table. What the Palestinians are now offered is not territory in the old Labor sense, though Labor slogans ("Allon Plus") are used, and certainly not anything like even a marginal state of their own. They are offered merely a status of self-rule heavily circumscribed by Israeli prerogatives and a relationship with the Israelis regulated by Israeli needs of the moment. Imagine that the Palestinians did everything the Israelis asked in the way of cracking down on terrorists -- everything. They would get in return just a small, dependent misshapen territory carved up by Israeli roads and vulnerable to Israeli intervention the first time a kid threw a stone. This seems to me what the Israelis in command are pursuing. They have wedded the claims of security to the claims of ideology and produced a political configuration that cannot possibly become the basis of the sort of negotiation that the United States encourages and that most people have in mind -- including, at least in good cycles, perhaps a majority of Israelis. The Israelis are commonly thought of as realists in these matters. But realism would require a measure of enlightened cooperation, and the government is now at the point where it is not asking to work out Israeli security on mutually agreed terms but simply to impose Israeli security requirements. Just two days before the latest suicide bombing, Netanyahu was publicly celebrating his success in "lowering the level of terrorism" by inducing Palestinians to undertake "restraining moves alongside the actions we take -- things which perhaps the public doesn't know of, but of which I am extremely proud." Then the bombs went off, and suddenly Netanyahu had a long list of new things the Palestinians must immediately do to protect Israelis. He's right, of course, in making high security demands on the Palestinians. His core demand here is right too: The Palestinians cannot be allowed to use security cooperation as a lever to induce Israeli bargaining concessions. The Egyptian and Jordanian leaders -- as a close Netanyahu aide, Dore Gold, put it to me this week -- did not let violence hover over the negotiating table. Nor should Yasser Arafat. But it is wildly self-delusional, if it is not just plain cynical, for Israelis to imagine that their own political behavior has no effect on the Palestinian Authority's readiness to restrain both officially condoned and informally generated terrorism. True, it also is delusional to think that even the fairest and most enlightened Israeli policy would lift from the Israelis the full curse of Palestinian terrorism. This awful phenomenon has sources beyond the normal political reach. But if normality is a prize Israel cannot soon expect to win, then surely it can look forward to a diminution of terrorism and to the comforts of international cooperation and sympathy in the struggle against it. As it is now, the Israeli position on terrorism involves an all-out and, if necessary, lonely struggle in which all tactics are justified. The policy looks finally to coming down hard on Arafat and other offenders in order to demonstrate that Palestinian depredations have a cost. Those who do not have to go about every day wondering if their fellow bus passenger is a suicide bomber have an obligation of empathy; Israelis monitor it closely. But an obligation of empathy also runs to Palestinians striving for a political objective -- a state -- that is considered reasonable and normal in most parts of the world. At Oslo, Israelis bravely took a long step toward accommodating Palestinian political aspirations. Arafat subsequently made some but not enough effort to check terrorism. He must deliver. But he will be better able to deliver if he has something to show for it on the political side. So far, at least, Likud has shown itself stingy and negative in this crucial regard. Respectful to a diplomatic fault of Israel's political constrictions, the Clinton administration needs to speak out strongly not only against terrorism but also for a political settlement based on side-by-side Israeli and Palestinian states.