Regardless of the results of the Israeli elections for Prime Minister and this year’s Knesset, questions remain about the formal acknowledgment of the existence of the Palestinian state. Though a Palestinian state did not exist when we first declared our independence in Algeria in 1988, it exists now: we, the Palestinian people, are here, the land is here, and our government operates.
Currently, of course, the Palestinian National Authority is “autonomous,” a nebulous term used to describe its status during the interim period of negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis. In order to move into a permanent solution of the region’s major difficulty, a fourth element is needed: the element of sovereignty.
The features of the Palestinian state must correspond to those called for in our Declaration of Independence, which is based on “the natural, historic and legal right of the Arab Palestinian people [to live in their own state] in their homeland, Palestine.” To achieve such a state, we invoke United Nations Resolution 194, which gives Palestinians the right to return to their homeland, and United Nations Resolution 181, which gives Palestinians the right to self-determination and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. At this critical juncture, as we move away from the five-year restrictions imposed by the Oslo Agreements, we rely more fully than ever on the expressions of international will and fairness which are embodied in these and the other UN resolutions which have been issued regarding Palestine since 1947.
At the same time, we need to take into account the plans and positions of the two candidates for Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Barak and Benjamin Netanyahu. Whichever candidate becomes the next Israeli head of state, the positions of both are worth evaluating, since both men represent a sizable portion of the Israeli electorate.
As for Netanyahu, he made his stand clear in a speech he delivered at the Washington Institute for Near East Policies [sic], on May 8 of last year:
I want to say something about the Palestinian state. It is not about the declaration as a unilateral act that violates Oslo. It is about why we object to a state. It is not because we want to rule over the Palestinians. As I said earlier, we no longer run their affairs. They run their own affairs. Period. We care for our life. We realize the dangers resulting from the unrestricted implementation of self-determination, or what they call an independent state with full sovereignty. Netanyahu continued: I would like to say that the state they want is a lethal danger to Israel. This danger does not result from their organizing of their economic life, teaching, or well-being. They now exercise these rights. They don’t want a state for that purpose. Nor do they need a legislative council or an executive legal system. They have these things. Nor do they need a flag or a passport or identity symbols. They also have these things. They don’t want a state to obtain these things. They want a state to recruit a big army, ... to import weapons. They cannot do this now because border crossings are under bilateral control.
They want a state to establish military alliances with Iraq and Iran. They cannot do this under the current situation. We control what comes in and who comes in. The state Palestinians want to establish threatens our water resources.
Forty per cent of our water basins are in areas that Palestinians want to have under their control. I don’t want to decide on the right of the Palestinians to demand a state in final negotiations. I’m telling you what our stance will be. We are calling for a practical solution whereby we obtain security while Palestinians acquire whatever they need [namely, “autonomy”] to run their own affairs, unless Israel’s security is threatened.
With these words, Netenyahu made it clear, lest anyone had doubted it, where the Israeli government stood at that point in time vis-a-vis the issue of Palestine. A year before the intended declaration of Palestinian statehood on May 4, Netanyahu scoffed that “Palestinians can daily dream of having a state, but when they wake up in the morning, they will discover that there is not a state. And there will never be one.”
Throughout his election campaign, Netanyahu emphasized his objection to a fully sovereign Palestinian state. He said that he objected to the establishment of a Palestinian state, which would threaten the existence of the state of Israel.
“We should allow the Palestinians to live in a way that does not endanger our security, by giving them self-administration,” Netanyahu said. “I don’t want to be in Nablus or Jenin. I also advise Arafat not to declare a state unilaterally. If he does so, we will unilaterally impose Israel’s law on areas still under our control.”
So much for Netanyahu's position, and the position of his supporters.
As for the Labour Party, Ehud Barak delivered a speech, also in the United States, which outlined his party’s position. Speaking at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy on August 18 of last year, Barak said that Palestinians would be free to decide the shape of their political identity when all final-status issues, especially those relating to Israeli security, had been resolved.
At that time, though, Barak warned that a unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood on May 4, 1999, would destroy any prospects for peace. At the same time, he suggested, Israel should give Palestinians some signal of what it is prepared to concede in the final-status negotiations, if violence was to be prevented in May. “All should help in doing so,” Barak said. “But I don’t think that a national unity government is necessary, because Labour cannot associate itself with the policies of the present [Netenyahu] government. A national unity government is possible only when commitments made under the peace agreements are fulfilled. This is impossible in the current situation because the present government has become an arm of the extreme right and fundamentalist elements.”
In a previous interview, published in Ha’aretz on October 4, 1996, Barak said that a fully sovereign Palestinian state would hinder the prospects of reaching an agreement. Such a state, he said, would foster the movement toward Palestinian national liberation and would result in the creation of some very complicated issues, including those pertaining to Jerusalem. As for arms, one cannot expect a fully sovereign state not to supply its army with land-to-air missiles. But if the Palestinian state were to decide to deploy modern missile technology on the hills of Jenin and Latrun, then Israeli airplanes would not be able to take off from major Israeli airfields, Barak maintained. Other issues which would arise in the event of Palestinian sovereignty would relate to where the Palestinian air force would be able to fly and where Palestinian tanks could be deployed.
Two states for two peoples, Barakwent on, is not a simple issue. Two fully sovereign states to the west of the River Jordan is a complicated issue. “In my opinion,” he said, “we should aim for a Palestinian entity which is less than a state, and we hope that at the right moment and in a natural manner, a confederation will develop between this entity and Jordan. When such a situation develops, all the current complicated issues will become solvable.”
These, then, are the positions of the two leading candidates for the prime ministerial post in Israel, as expressed in their campaigns. To confront either stand, and to ensure the actualization of a Palestinian state that corresponds to our national aims, we must do the following:
1. We must not extend the interim period of negotiations, which expired on May 4. We should eliminate all restrictions which prevent the Palestinian people from establishing their state on the basis of UN Resolution 181.
2. We must take all measures necessary for bringing about full Palestinian sovereignty. Among these measures must be calling for new elections for the parliament of state of Palestine.
3. We will base our stand on all UN Resolutions relevant to the issues of Jerusalem, settlements, refugees, borders and water, rather than on the basis of changing political whims.
4. We intend to keep good relations with the US administration without giving in to their dictates. We will also enlarge the number of participants in the negotiations to include Russia, Japan and China.
5. We must emphasize the participation of the European Community in the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations. The Berlin Declaration of 1999, which stresses Palestinians’ right to self-determination, is an extension of the Venice Summit statement of 1980.
6. We must make all effort to reactivate the role of all Arab and Muslim states to protect Jerusalem and all holy places from Israeli attempts to take them over.
7. We should adhere to principles which lead to the adoption of a policy that aims at organizing our inner house, reinforcing national and Islamic unity, and respecting political plurality and the sovereignty of law and justice. Our government must have nothing to hide. Finally, our performance must make full use of the competence of our people.
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