Israel and the Palestinians

The rush of notable events set into motion by the uprising nearly two years ago of Palestinian Arabs in the West Bank and Gaza is impressive. Two decades of near tranquility in Israel's occupied territories were shattered. The intifadeh provoked Jordan's King Hussein to relinquish his claims to the West Bank, which his grandfather had annexed in 1951. It led the Palestine Liberation Organization to declare Palestinian independence, to renounce terrorism and to accept Israel's right to exist, which in turn paved the way for the diplomatic dialogue between the United States and the PLO. Finally, in Israel, it led the Likud-Labor coalition to adopt an initiative for elections in the occupied territories for transitional self-rule to be followed by negotiations on their final status. Opponents on all sides rallied in an effort to cripple Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir's initiative. These events, and more, were crammed into a short period of time, creating a sense of unparalleled passion and fluidity, of fears among some and euphoria among others.

But has all this brought a settlement of the long festering conflict any closer? In the absence of any indication that Israel is prepared to withdraw from at least some of the disputed territories, or that the Palestinians are willing to settle for something less than an independent state, what is there to talk about? Is there any realistic diplomacy that can sidestep the questions aptly put by Henry Kissinger: What territories, if any, will be given up by Israel? Who shall govern there? And what security arrangements will prevail after Israel's withdrawal? Can Israel be asked simultaneously to give up territories and permit the foundation of a PLO state?

There are no clear answers yet to any of these questions and the present outlook is grim on the three main concerns: the peace process itself, the issue of Palestinian representation and the nature of the permanent solution. Yet leading Israeli officials and Palestinian leaders have in fact started to draw tentative and vague images of what a permanent solution might look like. Though largely unnoticed, amid the rush of dramatic incidents, these images are significant; they form a new psychological context for every step in the peace process.

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