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Autonomy on the Rocks : U.S. Plan's Faith in Israel Mocks Reality

February 11, 1988|DAOUD KUTTAB | Daoud Kuttab is a Palestinian journalist living in Jerusalem. and

EAST JERUSALEM — Palestinians, like any other people in the world, hope to live freely on their land. We like to choose our form of government, elect our leaders and have control over our natural resources.

Such basic demands are impossible in the context of the autonomy plan being promoted for us.

Palestinians who have struggled for the past 20 years to end the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip are not prepared to accept as a solution having control of our garbage collection and postal service. This is the concept of autonomy that is now being imposed by Washington and Israel on Palestinians.

Instead of supporting the idea of an international conference for peace, the United States is trying to put a new wrapping on a rejected and outdated plan. Palestinians didn't participate in the Camp David process, and they are not being asked to take part in the present scheme. U.S. officials continue to want the Palestinians to be the subject of a political plan regarding their future rather than parties to it.

The plan is supposed to be an interim arrangement, but there are no guarantees that it will not become permanent. The second step of the plan would not be determined until next December--after the Israeli parliamentary election. In other words, Palestinians are asked to put their future in the hands of Israeli voters. No way will we accept that.

For the past eight weeks Palestinians in the occupied territories have demonstrated to the world that they are sick and tired of the Israeli occupation and the lack of any genuine political settlement. The current uprising is not an act of disorder or a lack of respect for the law. It is a popular expression of rejection of an illegal occupation.

For Palestinians the United States' maneuverings, and to a lesser degree Egyptian and Jordanian political movement, are an attempt to abort the momentum of the uprising. These political powers are trying to do what Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin and the Israeli government have failed to do. They are trying to defuse the Palestinian will--now that unnecessary killings, immoral beatings and abhorrent curfews have failed to stop the expressions of Palestinian anger. No wonder the stubborn Israeli prime minister gladly welcomed Secretary of State George P. Shultz's autonomy plan.

The Shultz plan satisfies Israel on a number of counts. Israel doesn't have to accept an international conference or talk to the Palestinians' representatives, the Palestine Liberation Organization, or make a commitment on ending the Israeli occupation or dismantling Israeli settlements on the West Bank. And by leaving the plan open-ended, there are no guarantees that real negotiations for the end of Israeli rule over the 1.5 million Palestinians would ever have to take place.

The so-called autonomy plan would defuse the Palestinian uprising in the same way that the Camp David agreement neutralized Egypt. Later, just as the Israelis balked on autonomy talks in 1979, they can renege on any promises that they have to make now.

Some would argue that autonomy is better than occupation, so why don't the Palestinians take it and then work for something better?

The answer is that the Israeli government is committed to staying in the West Bank and Gaza forever. That is why the Israelis established Jewish settlements in contradiction to international law. Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir even said last week that Israel will continue to build Jewish settlements in what he calls Judea and Samaria. This is not a government that Palestinians can put much trust in.

Palestinians fear, therefore, that autonomy over a few civil services would become the final offer. We would be left without our land, without a state and without any political rights. No people in the world would accept that.

The United Nations has made it clear in the Human Rights Declaration that all the people of the world have the right to determine their future, choose their representatives and enjoy political rights on their own soil.

Israel and the United States are among the signatories to that declaration. Yet both the United States and the state of Israel continue to deny our simple right of determining our future.

This American bias toward Israel was reaffirmed two weeks ago when the United States went against the entire international community by vetoing a U.N. Security Council resolution calling for the enforcement of the Geneva Convention in the occupied territories. Considering such a pro-Israel record, Palestinians can't accept any unilateral American peacemaking role.

The last time the PLO trusted a U.S. guarantee, in 1982 in Lebanon, the American government couldn't protect the Sabra and Chatilla refugee camps from massacre. Now the same U.S. envoy, Philip C. Habib, who worked out that agreement is back in the area trying to sell the Arabs the autonomy plan that was rejected long before the beginning of the uprising on Dec. 8.

We deserve better. Our people have sacrificed a lot to gain the freedom and independence enjoyed by other people of the world. No Palestinian can accept anything less.

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