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Peace for Israel Hinges on a State for Palestinians

January 17, 1988|George Ball | George Ball, who served as under secretary of state from 1961 to 1966, is working on a book about the U.S. relationship with Israel

PRINCETON, N.J. — Almost as regrettable as the loss of life during the recent violence in the Gaza Strip and West Bank has been the Israeli government's failure to acknowledge the nature of its predicament. Instead of confronting its fundamental dilemma, Israel is merely asserting, in tones of bluster, that resistance will disappear if the outside world just keeps quiet while Israel's army applies the iron fist even more harshly.

But no one should expect the Palestinians to sit by as their military overlords progressively preempt their remaining lands with Israeli settlements. Since 1967, Israel has, in violation of the Geneva Convention, seized more than 53% of West Bank land from 800,000 Palestinian inhabitants for the benefit of 50,000 Jewish settlers--6% of the population.

In the Gaza Strip it has seized one-third of the land for 1,300 Jewish settlers--compressing the 400,000 Palestinian inhabitants into a fetid slum with a population density approaching that of Calcutta. At the same time, Israel has prevented Palestinian residents from efficiently cultivating their dwindling remnants of agricultural acreage, while making them dependent on Israel to do low-wage menial jobs shunned by Israelis.

Since the West Bank and Gaza Strip were first overrun by Israel's army in 1967, a Palestinian generation has grown up under the domination of occupation troops. Because three out of four Gazans are under the age of 25, they have never tasted self-rule and increasingly despair of doing so. It was inevitable that their bitterness would ultimately take the form of reckless resistance. In this new outbreak, the nearly 800,000 Palestinians in Israel proper have for the first time joined in by calling a paralyzing strike--signaling the Israeli government they are tired of being treated as second-class citizens.

Were any nation other than Israel behaving in such a harsh manner, the United States would threaten to curtail aid and impose sanctions. But even while Congress and the Administration painfully cut domestic programs to reduce the budget deficit, the United States continues its annual subsidy to Israel--a rate now equivalent to $1,400 for every Jewish man, woman and child in the country.

Like it or not, the United States has major responsibility for this distorted state of affairs. By failing to act incisively we are undercutting those farsighted and deeply worried Israelis who see their nation's current course leading dangerously toward disaster.

Meanwhile, the United States disregards principles of international law it has long enjoined on others. It dismisses the right of Palestinians to exercise self-determination guaranteed by the U.N. Charter. Although we piously deny the right of nations to acquire territory by force, we hypocritically block any U.N. resolution compelling Israel to bargain in good faith to exchange territory for peace as provided in Security Council resolutions 242 and 338.

Why does the United States betray its basic principles so cavalierly? The sad answer is that U.S. politicians have become so programmed to respond to the pressure of Israel's American friends that they uncritically accept the myths hard-line Israelis have devised to evade facing their country's problems.

The first myth is that Israel should not negotiate with the Palestine Liberation Organization until it renounces terrorism and key elements of its charter. But Israel is no more entitled to demand such preconditions for peace talks than the Palestinians are to insist in advance on an Israeli assurance that negotiations will provide them with lands to build their own state. Who can expect the Palestinians to come to the table when Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir repeatedly proclaims that Israel will never give up a single acre of the West Bank?

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