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Start With Palestinian Statehood

A European plan to end the occupation first is the best formula.

April 18, 2002|GRAHAM E. FULLER

What does it take to recognize failure? Secretary of State Colin Powell's trip has ended in complete collapse, as the administration remains mired in a "peace process" that is empty of content. We are back to a brutal and hopeless impasse. The reason for continuing failure? Let's reduce it to a bumper sticker: "It's the occupation, stupid." Until that issue is addressed, nothing else will fall into place.

It is time for some radical new thinking.

The European foreign ministers in February unanimously backed a proposal that reverses the sequence of the whole game, calling for the establishment of a Palestinian state as the starting point of a negotiating process.

The new state would receive immediate international recognition by the world's states, including the U.S. and Israel, a seat at the United Nations and immediate global financial assistance and would be empowered to negotiate with Israel on terms of legal equality.

The virtue of the peace plan is that it vaults over the endless impasse on security issues that Washington and Israel fruitlessly insist must come first.

Until there is an imminent, visible and tangible pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for the Palestinians, Yasser Arafat will not--indeed cannot--move to eliminate the suicide bombings, the only weapon the Palestinians possess against the repressive power of the Israeli state, which seeks to frustrate a meaningful sovereign Palestinian state.

With no exit, the rampant bitterness in the battered cities of the West Bank will shortly translate into horrific new waves of suicide missions that Israeli security experts acknowledge they cannot stop.

The European plan gives the Palestinians an incentive up front, with restored institutions, hope, dignity and relief aid to rebuild their shattered infrastructure, economy and homes. It must be accompanied by an immediate end to the 35-year Israeli occupation. In short, when Palestinians have a stake in a new country and a new society, suicide bombings will rapidly lose their importance. Palestinians don't like to die anymore than other people do, but they will be willing to die until genuine gains are accomplished.

They cannot be fobbed off with returns to some negotiating table where we know that Ariel Sharon's deepest principles will not permit him to give what a just settlement must have. That "negotiating table" has been the continual backdrop to expand new Israeli settlements under all Israeli governments--spreading armed islands across the Palestinian landscape that shrink future Palestinian territory and ring them with security roads restricted to Israelis only.

And let's drop the Israeli myth that "the Palestinians walked away" from Ehud Barak's deal that "gave them almost everything they wanted." The deal was badly flawed, as honest Israeli analysts themselves admit--better, to be sure, than anything offered in the past but still short of what is required and what is just. No Palestinian leader could have signed it.

Naturally there are many details in the European Union blueprint that still need to be worked out. But its essence is to give the Palestinians something up front that provides confidence that the negotiations will be conducted on some basis of legal equality and dignity, and not out of Arafat's battered candle-lit office surrounded by tanks--the ultimate humiliation that moves people to rage and vengeance.

Yes, there are some Palestinians who would love to eliminate all of Israel. But it's not going to happen, and most Palestinians know that. The vast majority, including Arafat, would quickly settle for a just and dignified peace. Indeed Arafat would then be empowered to crush the few pockets of radicalism with full public support once the public had something real to lose. That's when Palestinians would start rejecting the terrorists who would threaten their new hard-won gains.

So let's recognize past failures, get on with some fresh approaches and let the Europeans have a piece of the action that abandons Sharon's mindless military solution, which Washington has sadly supported up to now. Failing that, we will only reap a new harvest of blood and tears and a frightening expansion of our confrontation with the Muslim world.

*

Graham E. Fuller is former vice chairman of the National Intelligence Council at the CIA.

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