JERUSALEM — The various warring parties in the Middle East--be they the Palestinians, the Israelis or the Arab states, including Syria--have clearly indicated their desire for a peaceful settlement as an alternative to more conflict.
Good intentions are not enough. Each party to the dispute has demands of their own that are in direct conflict with the interests of the other parties.
To resolve the issues, it must be primarily understood that the Palestinians are the victims of the present struggle. We have to be clear on this point, because Israel tries to suppress this fact. To some extent they have even succeeded internationally in depicting the Palestinians as the culprits--the cause of the dispute and instability in the region.
Instead, Jewish aspirations and Zionist goals have been realized at the direct expense of the Palestinian people. A long-standing Jewish demand for a homeland found a solution, but the price was paid by the dispersion of the Palestinian people to all corners of the world. If this area is to regain any semblance of peace and stability, the fate of the Palestinian people must be dealt with in earnest.
Two national movements--Jewish and Palestinian--are vying for supremacy over one homeland. It should be apparent by now that complete control of one national movement over the other, with full domination by one people over that homeland, is not a viable solution. It cannot be permanent; it will not bring peace. Instead it will be the cause of future conflict and will keep the area in turmoil--ready to explode at a moment's notice.
In both camps there are people who understand this reality. But, the many years of open struggle and the open suspicions of the intentions of the two adversaries remain as the real obstacles to peace.
Pragmatists on both sides realize that eventually, Palestinians and Jews have to accept each other--in mutual, simultaneous recognition. Time is not on the side of those in both camps who seek peace. The attacks Friday at the Rome and Vienna airports indicate just how volatile the situation is. Preserving the status quo will only make things worse and more complicated and the atmosphere of despair will fan extremism for which the whole Middle East will pay a brutal and tragic price.
The magic formula is in mutual concessions, or land for peace: Exchange of land occupied by the Israelis in the 1967 war for Palestinian recognition of the state of Israel. Many Israelis would prefer to keep the land and seek peace through different avenues. That would only cause the present situation to further deteriorate; it would be a formula to keep the area at the brink of war.
Preparations have to be made to narrow the gap in order to reach a breakthrough. The Reagan Administration is exploring Palestinian reaction in regard to three preconditions that could prepare the stage for the peace talks: Acceptance of United Nations resolutions 242 and 338, which would imply an explicit recognition of Israel; a stand on terrorism, and direct talks between the Arab side and the Israelis.
In return, the Palestinians have not been sitting idle.
The Amman accord of last Feb. 11 paved the way for the present peace initiative and for fresh political developments in the long festering Israeli-Palestinian dispute. It presented a proper mechanism to implement peace in the area. And it also provided, through the joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegations, the Arab party that can conduct these negotiations.
The areas of differences that still exist are bridgeable. The Palestinian people can meet the American demands--preconditions that have been formalized with the Israelis. But the Palestinians in return have their own counterdemands:
--In the case of resolutions 242 and 338, the Palestine Liberation Organization stand is to accept all U.N. resolutions. Explicit recognition of 242 and 338 is possible in return for a statement by the United States recognizing the right of the Palestinian people to self determination.
--On terrorism, the PLO has condemned acts like the attacks on the airports at Rome and Vienna. In fact, it has prohibited all acts of violence outside the border of the dispute (Palestine), and inside this area it has recognized a difference between violence against innocent civilians, which it condemns, and the armed struggle against military targets. Even the armed struggle can be downplayed if the extended olive branch could be seriously considered--that is, if we can start the peace process.
--In his United Nations address last fall, King Hussein of Jordan proposed an international conference as a way for meeting the precondition for direct talks. The United States and Israel, with some reservations, have indicated that such a forum could be the venue for these negotiations.
If those conditions are to be shortly met by the parties to the conflict, the days of preparations will be over and this region will have the chance to open a new era--the start of the peace process, the start of earnest negotiations. If we can reach that stage, I am optimistic that the momentum of the talks, along with the internal pressure of the Palestinians and the Israelis on their respective leaderships, would drive both sides to find a solution. It might not be perfect, but it would be a solution negotiated by the representatives of both people.