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March 01, 1991 - Image 29

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1991-03-01

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

BACKGROUND

Renewed Life

Israel hopes the Gulf war — and the PLO's
support for Saddam — will make the West
more receptive to Yitzhak Shamir's proposals
for ending the Arab-Israeli conflict.

HELEN DAVIS

Foreign Correspondent

O

fficials in Jerusalem
are cautiously op-
timistic that the
international community —
appalled at the Palestine
Liberation Organization's
endorsement of Saddam
Hussein — may now give
more serious consideration
to Prime Minister Yitzchak
Shamir's formula for settl-
ing the Arab-Israeli dispute.
The Shamir government
has consistently opposed
Arab demands for
multilateral negotiations
within the framework of an
international peace con-
ference under the auspices of
the United Nations.
Such a "grandstand"
forum, the prime minister
believes, would be both
hostile and coercive,
ultimately imposing a set-
tlement that would be un-
favorable to Israel and leave
it militarily vulnerable.
Instead, Jerusalem has
proposed direct, bilateral
negotiations with each of its
neighbors, perhaps brokered
by the United States and
along the lines of the talks
that led to the 1979 Egyp-
tian-Israeli peace treaty.
The Likud government is
also opposed to giving up
ultimate control of the West
Bank and Gaza Strip, a
move that would leave Israel
just nine miles wide at its
most heavily populated
point around the Tel Aviv
area.
The reason for this in-
sistence has been underlined
by the Gulf crisis and has led
a number of "dovish"
Israelis, including Asher
Susser, head of the Tel Aviv
University Center for Mid-
dle East Studies, to reap-
praise their own personal
positions.
Prof. Susser, who had
favored a wholesale Israeli
withdrawal from the ter-
ritories at almost any price,
now says that had Israel ex-
ecuted such a move, "the
Iraqi army would now be sit-
ting on the outskirts of Tel
Aviv."

Even the opposition Labor
Party, which favors trading
land for peace, insists on re-
taining much of the strategic
high ground in the ter-
ritories, without which, they
also say, Israel's heartland
would be dangerously
vulnerable.
Israel insists that a resolu-
tion of the Palestinian issue
can only be concluded within
the framework of a broader
settlement with its Arab
neighbors.
This plan calls for local
elections among the Pales-
tinian inhabitants of the
West Bank and Gaza Strip
that are intended to produce
"authentic" Palestinian
leaders with whom the
Israelis could negotiate a
far-reaching autonomy ar-
rangement.
Such a formula falls short
of complete Palestinian in-
dependence —Israel would
insist on maintaining con-
trol over security and for-
eign affairs — but it would

Israel appears to
have handled the
Gulf War just right
— while the PLO
has handled it
absolutely wrong.

allow the Palestinians a
large measure of authority
over their daily lives.
But the greatest sticking
point in this plan has been
Israel's absolute refusal to
deal with the PLO, a posi-
tion that led to Jerusalem's
international isolation as
the European Community
and then the U.S. estab-
lished official contacts with
the organization.
The Gulf war, however,
has reversed this trend.
Israel has won unstinting
— and unexpected — praise
for its restraint in the face of
Iraqi Scud missiles from
Western leaders who feared
that an early Israeli in-
volvement in the Persian
Gulf conflict would have
unravelled the symbolically
important Arab component
of the allied military coali-
tion.

Already, these hard-
earned diplomatic points
have been converted into
military, medical and finan-
cial aid packages for the
Jewish state.
Moreover, just when Israel
appeared to be doing every-
thing right, PLO chairman
Yassir Arafat appeared to
have made a disastrous
miscalculation by throwing
his support behind Saddam.
From the Gulf to Jordan
and the Maghreb states of
North Africa, Palestinian
masses followed Arafat's
lead and proclaimed their
solidarity with the Iraqi dic-
tator. In the occupied ter-
ritories they climbed to the
rooftops of their homes to
cheer the Iraqi missiles.
But now that Saddam has
dropped the Palestinian
cause from his wish list in
favor of his own survival, the
PLO and the Palestinian
people have, once again,
been hung out to dry by one
of their own.
"How many Arab leaders
have gone to war in the
name of the Palestinians?"
said a shopkeeper in East
Jerusalem. "And what do we
see for it? Nothing, nothing.
This has taught us that we
can rely only on ourselves. It
is a lesson we should have
learned long ago."
Having hitched their fate
to the now-fading Iraqi star,
the PLO and the Palestin-
ians are likely to emerge as
the major losers — after Iraq
itself — from the Gulf con-
flict.
Arafat's actions during the
Gulf crisis have caused his
credibility to be questioned
by even his most ardent
champions in Europe, who
find it difficult to reconcile
his endorsement of Iraq with
his own stated opposition to
"the acquisition of territory
by force."
Already, Germany and the
Netherlands have declared
that Arafat has disqualified
himself from any future
peace process. Britain, too,
has conspicuously dropped
its long-standing demand
that the PLO have a seat at
the negotiating table.

Artwork from the L. Angeles Times by Catherine Kanner. Copyright 1989, Catherine Kanner. Distributed by Los Angel. Times Syndicate.

Israeli officials are not
hanging out the victory bun-
ting yet, but they do sense a
growing international sym-
pathy for their predicament.
"We've been the world's
punching bag for 10 years,"
said one Foreign Ministry of-
ficial last week. "It's nice to
be stroked again."
Israeli officials are hoping
the West will find the cur-
rent painful lesson in Middle
East realpolitik to be in-
structive; that the experi-
ence will produce a greater
appreciation of the risks fac-
ing Israel in an unstable and
hostile region.
"This is not just a morality
play we're involved in," said
one senior Israeli official.

"We're talking about our
survival, our very exis-
tence."
The situation, of course,
may change radically yet
again before the dust settles
in the Gulf conflict. But for
now, Jerusalem believes
there may be renewed inter-
est in the widely ridiculed
Shamir plan, enunciated in
May 1989, for resolving the
ongoing Arab-Israeli and Pa-
lestinian conflicts in a way
that is acceptable to Israel —
and without any reference to
the PLO.
Jerusalem is hoping that
many who once scorned the
Israeli offer will now regard
it as a good place to start
after all.EI

THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

29

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