A Just Declaration—Palestinian Statehood


The New York Times, August 21, 1988


It is inevitable that there will be a unilateral Palestinian declaration of independence and statehood covering the disputed territories. What remains to be seen is whether the proclamation of the Palestinian state leads to peace in the Middle East or to catastrophe for both Israelis and Palestinians. Either way, Washington and the American Jewish community will bear a significant part of the responsibility.

            Three distinct factors are driving events. First and most important is the uprising. The Palestinian people are unilaterally denying the Israelis effective control of the territories. , they have given their allegiance to an underground quasi-government; they are breaking their links with Israeli society and creating alternative institutions.

            Second, King Hussein’s abandon­ment of any Jordanian claim to sovereignty over the West Bank has forced the Palestinians to choose: Ei­ther live forever under Israeli rule or form a Palestinian state.

            And third, Israel’s decision to re­veal to the world that a Palestinian declaration of independence was being drafted transformed this idea into a psychological reality. Thus, the Palestinian people are now calling for such a declaration.

            Potentially, a declaration of statehood can bring peace to the region. When the Palestine Liberation Organization proclaims the state of Palestine, it can take these steps:

            It can dissolve the P.L.O., transform it into a provisional government with a new constitution and this relegates the P.L.O. covenant to history.

            It can announce that the new state is at peace with Israel, seeks only the territories of the West Bank and Gaza and is prepared to enter into face-to-face negotiations on a government-to-government basis. It also can name an ambassador to Israel and send him to address the Knesset.

            It can issue a law forbidding all active terrorism and any lethal attacks on Israeli soldiers who continue to occupy the country of Palestine.

            And it can announce it is prepared to negotiate with Israel over the issues of demilitarization and special security guarantees.

            If the Palestinians coupled this peace initiative to their declaration of independence, they would win recognition from a majority of the world governments and would win the support of most Americans and many Israelis. If the Palestinians did not go ahead with the peace initiative, however, the declaration of statehood would be like waving a red flag in from of a bull. It would play into the hands of those calling for Israeli annexation of the territories, and even for expulsion of the Palestinians.

            We are at a critical historical moment in this hundred-year conflict between Jews and Arabs in the Middle East. The P.L.O. is presently deliberating these matters, as are thousands of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. What they decide will be strongly influenced by the extent to which it is clear that a peace initiative will be met with a strong positive response.

            There is no way to guarantee the P.L.O. that, even if it does launch the full peace initiative envisioned above, Israel will negotiate with representatives of the new state. Indeed, if they proclaim the state, the Israelis may be even less willing to negotiate. Yet is it only by transforming itself into the provisional government of the state of Palestine that the P.L.O. will find strength to recognize Israel.

            A hard-line Israeli position makes it all the more necessary for the Palestinians to couple a declaration of statehood with acceptance of Israel. Unfortunately, it also makes it more difficult to do so. The long-term problem they face is how to make the state a reality once it is proclaimed. Ultimately, they will have to secure Israeli troop withdrawal, but without the peace initiative it is more likely that a proclamation of independence will lead to a war of Palestinian expulsion.

            This is the time for all those concerned with peace, with justice for Palestinians and security for the Israelis to act decisively.

            What is needed is for the American Jewish community and the United States Government to say that we are not opposed to a Palestinian state in principle, and that id the proclamation of statehood goes forward with a clear and unambiguous commitment to live in peace with Israel, we will recognize it and urge our Israeli friends to meet it halfway at the negotiating table.