JERUSALEM — Even those who defend Israel's harsh tactics in putting down riots find it difficult to understand why the Palestinians are denied the right of self-determination.
What they do not realize is that every Israeli, from far right to far left, believes that the Palestinian Arabs should have a state of their own. Israel has fought too hard and long--and has lost too many of its sons and daughters on its way to self-determination--not to understand the national aspirations of another people.
The only argument in Israel is over the borders of the Palestinian state: whether it should exist, as it does now, in the three-fourths of Palestine known as Jordan, or if it should include Judea-Samaria (the West Bank) and Gaza, those two dots on the map whose combined area, 2,500 square miles, is about the size of an average county in the western United States.
That Jordan is a Palestinian state is beyond dispute. Not only because it is within the borders of what used to be the British mandate of Palestine, but because the Arabs of the East Bank of the River Jordan and those on its West Bank are the same people. King Hussein has said so innumerable times, and so has Yasser Arafat. And, indeed, 70% of Jordan's population and virtually all its prime ministers, politicians, businessmen and intellectuals come from the west side of the river, now under Israel's control. When Hussein's grandfather, King Abdallah, declared the independence of his country, then known as Transjordan, he wanted to call it Palestine. The British Colonial Office dissuaded him.
But there are 1.3 million Arab inhabitants in Judea-Samaria and Gaza and only 200,000 Jews (counting Jerusalem's new suburbs in the Judean mountains). Why shouldn't Israel relinquish these territories, captured in 1967 when Egypt, Syria and Jordan threatened to "drive the Jews into the sea," and let these Palestinians exercise the right of self-determination?
The answer is simple: because withdrawal from the territories will mortally endanger Israel's existence. Because, as in the case of the Sudeten Germans in Czechoslovakia who were granted self determination in 1938 under similar circumstances, it will make a major war inevitable.
The advocates in the U.S. Administration of the Reagan plan, as well as Israel's foreign minister, Shimon Peres, believe that since the inhabitants of these territories are related to their brethren in Jordan, they should live under Jordanian rule, or in confederation with Jordan. What they ignore is that Palestinian Arabs are about as united as the people of Lebanon, and the only thing they agree on is that Israel itself is occupied Arab territory.
No matter what agreement is drawn up and by whom, if Israel withdraws, a fight for primacy between the Palestine Liberation Organization, the Islamic fundamentalists and the Marxists in the territories is unavoidable--as is the area's becoming, like Lebanon, a terrorist base for activity against Israel. Unlike Lebanon, Judea-Samaria and Gaza border on Israel's main population centers. Jerusalem would be flanked on three sides, Tel Aviv on two. The Palestinians, now armed not with stones and Molotov cocktails but missiles and automatic weapons, would be nine miles from the sea and within Katyusha rocket range of 80% of Israel's population. To suppose that any multinational force or security arrangements could prevent them from making Israel unlivable is as realistic as to expect that the United Nations peacekeeping force can maintain order in southern Lebanon.
In the battle for dominance, the better equipped and organized PLO would probably win, although one should not underestimate the fanaticism and organizational ability of the followers of Ahmed Yassin, the "Gaza Khomeini," who started the present riots. But a PLO victory would not bring calm. The battle would continue among the Arafat, Habash, Hawatmeh, Gibril, Abu Musa and Abu Nidal factions of the PLO, each proving its fitness to lead by outdoing the atrocities of the other.
The covenant of the Palestinian revolution, lest we forget, calls for the "liberation" not of Judea-Samaria and Gaza but of the whole area of the British mandate of Palestine, i.e. Israel and Jordan. Any readiness by one faction to settle for less would be condemned by the others as betrayal. Inevitably the faction with the strongest backer, namely Syria, would prevail, and the Syrians would then be invited to "stabilize" the area, which they consider as much part of "Greater Syria" as Lebanon. Israel, fighting for its survival from impossible borders, would probably repel the Syrian attack, but the toll of all these confrontations, even if fought with conventional arms, would be in the hundreds of thousands.