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Wednesday, October 13, 2004

One more Palestinian mistake

By Barry Rubin, The Jerusalem Post

The PLO returns to its explicit demand of 'Two peoples, one state'

An event of such earthshaking dimensions occurred on October 4 that it should go down in the Middle East history books: an op-ed piece in The New York Times by Michael Tarazi, the PLO's legal adviser, comprising a policy statement of prime importance.

Such an article would never appear without approval by that group's leadership and broad support from its cadre.

Its title, "Two peoples, one state," tells the story.

The PLO's position is now publicly and officially back to where it was in the 1960s and 1970s. Its open goal: Israel's elimination. To say this is nothing new because such has been the implicit aim all along would be a grave mistake. The fact that the PLO has come out into the open with such a position signals a very important change indeed.

This decision is one more sign that any chance for progress in the peace process is an illusion. While road maps, declarations, delegations, and other efforts may contribute to peace in the long-term, in the immediate context they are useless exercises in wishful thinking.

The key to understanding the history of the last half-century's Arab-Israeli conflict is that the PLO was never a true nationalist movement. Had it been, the problem would have been solved long ago.

For the PLO destroying Israel is more important than building an independent Palestinian state or relieving the Palestinian people's suffering. That is why Yasser Arafat turned down Israel's offer at Camp David as well as the Clinton plan, both of which offered a viable independent state with its capital in Jerusalem.

Never fully appreciated about this approach was its irrationality from the standpoint of a genuine Palestinian nationalism. A nationalist wants his people to live in a country of their own in order to build their identity and well being.

Demanding a "right of return" to Israel sabotages any real Palestinian nationalism.

If the goal was to build a strong, stable Palestinian state living in peace alongside Israel, everything would be done to discourage refugees from going to Israel. For why should a Palestinian state make a gift of these people, their money and talents to someone else?

But if you know that Israel will reject such a "return," then demanding it ensures postponing the end of the occupation, more violence, casualties, and billions of dollars in compensation.

The demand for return - PLO documents explicitly make this clear - is intended to subvert Israel and place it under Palestinian rule. That being the case, the returnees would not be lost to Palestine but would soon be making a real return - to the State of Palestine, bringing all of Israel with them.

BUT EVEN this slightly subtle two-stage plan proved too much for the PLO; so it has gone back to the explicit demand for a unitary state at the beginning of the process rather than as the outcome of years of subversion.

One need not be a genius to understand the consequences of such a "solution." The daily power struggle, bloodshed and civil war would make what is happening now look like a picnic.

To take the scheme Tarazi proposes seriously would be to assume that the Palestinian leadership is so humanitarian, so liberal and democratic-minded that it will sacrifice its own ambitions and totally change its historic behavior.

The movement's promotion of terrorism and vicious anti-Israel incitement belies any such intention.

Finally, and regrettably, this new campaign shows that even if Israel withdraws from the Gaza Strip - or accepts a Palestinian state in all the West Bank too - it will only initiate a new phase in which the Palestinian leadership demands Israel's elimination as the next step.

Tarazi tries to make this Palestinian demand seem something forced on it by Israeli policies. In reality, Palestinian leaders have repeated it in private conversation for years, even at the height of the peace process.

The explicit demand to dismantle Israel rather than seek a Palestinian state alongside it is growing also as a result of the current Palestinian assessment. It is a "right of return" to the 1960s and 1970s arising from the combination of a lost intifada, victory in the international propaganda war, and refusal of a real compromise peace.

It is also one more in a long series of Palestinian mistakes. For every person in the West ready to go along with the Palestinian demand to destroy Israel there are five or 10 willing to accept the movement's supposed nationalist narrative.

They will buy the argument that Palestinians just want their own homeland, but not the idea that it should include Israel as well.

This is even truer of Western states and politicians. The PLO's new line is likely to be a public-relations disaster, undoing many of the movement's apparent gains in the battle for public opinion.

Even Tarazi reveals the hypocrisy of pretending that the new Palestinian policy is a reluctant choice still being debated. He concludes: "The only question is how long it will take, and how much all sides will have to suffer" before Israeli Jews accept this outcome.

As real Palestinian moderates realize, defining the conflict in these terms ensures that no matter who leads Israel, the struggle will go on for a very long time with far more suffering - and a certainty that Palestinians will not get a state for many years.

The writer is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center; editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal; and editor of Turkish Studies.