Courtesy Reuters

Every time the Palestinian resistance is clobbered, or appears to be so, there is new hope in some quarters that the Palestinian component of the Arab-Israeli conflict will somehow disappear from the Middle Eastern scene. Such was the case after the showdown in Jordan in 1970-71, and the Syrian intervention in Lebanon in 1976; such is the case today after the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. However, the hope will remain elusive because it is based on a fallacy. This is that the salience of the Palestinian component of the Arab-Israeli conflict is necessarily a function of the organizational strength or military prowess of the Palestinians.


The Arab states' system is first and foremost a "Pan" system. It postulates the existence of a single Arab Nation behind the facade of a multiplicity of sovereign states. In pan-Arab ideology, this Nation is actual, not potential. It is a present reality, not a distant goal. The manifest failure even to approximate unity does not negate the empirical reality of the Arab Nation. It merely adds normative and prescriptive dimensions to the ideology of pan-Arabism. The Arab Nation both is, and should be, one.

From this perspective, the individual Arab states are deviant and transient entities: their frontiers illusory and permeable; their rulers interim caretakers, or obstacles to be removed. Champions of pan-Arabism speak in the name of vox populi. Their mandate is from the entire Arab Nation. Before such super-legitimacy, the legitimacy of the individual state shrinks into irrelevance. It is these credentials that pan-Arabists of various hues have presented and continue to present, be they a dynasty (the Hashemites), a party (the Arab Nationalist Movement, the Baath, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine), a charismatic leader (Nasser), or an aspirant to his mantle (Qaddafi).

The oneness of the Arab Nation has corollaries in the concepts of the dignity of the Nation, and the oneness and therefore the inviolability of its territory "from the [Atlantic] Ocean to the [Arab/Persian] Gulf." These concepts together constitute the central value system of the Arab states' system. To be sure, they are not uniformly manifested in the five great regions that make up the Arab world - the Fertile Crescent, the Gulf, the Peninsula, the Nile Valley and the Maghreb - nor in the countries of each region. But for historical, religious and cultural reasons they find powerful resonance among the vast majority of Arabs at every level of society throughout these regions. It is this resonance that gives them sanctity as dogmas. And it is this sanctity that gives them their key functional role within the parallelogram of "raisons" that make up the resultant stuff of the Arab political process. These are: raison d'état, raison du status quo, raison de la révolution, and raison de la nation.

Unlike the four natural seasons of the universe, the four "raisons" of the Arab political universe operate concurrently - not in two compartments in opposition to one another but diagonally and dialectically. Raison d'état no less than raison de la révolution can invoke raison de la nation, while even raison du status quo can invoke both these latter. Only explicit or transparent raison d'état is heresy. The other side of the coin is that "pan-Arab" interventionism, whether offensive or defensive, does not operate only at the level of incumbent elites. It is geared also to counter-elites in the target states. Perpetually Janus-faced, incumbents (whether conservative or radical) look both across the border and at their counter-elites. These latter look across the same border for "pan-Arab" help against their incumbents. Irrespective of the degree or kind of commitment to them, the concepts of pan-Arabism are functionally the most effective tools of change and legitimization in the hands of the Arab political elite.


The Palestine Problem encapsulates the concepts of pan-Arabism. It is not difficult to see why. By definition the Palestinian people are an integral part of the Arab Nation. Therefore, by definition the injustice suffered by the Palestinian people was suffered by the Nation. Again, the loss of Palestine is the de-Arabization of Arab territory. It is thus a violation of the principles of the unity and integrity of Arab soil, an affront to the dignity of the Nation.

Until recently these premises have held unchallenged sway, setting Arab perceptions of Zionism and Israel into a seemingly unbreakable mold. Within this mold the Zionist colonization of Palestine appears as a latter-day Crusade. (The conquest of East Jerusalem in 1967 instantly reactivated memories of its fall and reconquest by Saladin.) Simultaneously, Zionist colonization is but an extension of nineteenth century European encroachment on Asia and Africa. Building on the debris of Western World War I promises to the Arabs, it matured within the womb of imperial Britain. The U.N. partition resolution of 1947 was the outcome of superpower manipulation, a travesty of the principle of self-determination by a country's (Arab) majority.1 Western support of Jewish immigration to Palestine was an exercise in charity at the expense of others. The Arabs and Muslims have had little difficulty in rejecting Jewish political title to Palestine on the basis of Divine Right. They have some difficulty in understanding the morality of punishing the Palestinians for the Holocaust.

To the Arabs the loss of Palestine was all the more poignant because it entailed the dismantling of Palestinian communal life and the pauperization of the bulk of its people. It was more threatening than the form of European colonialism experienced by most of them. This had been characterized by the imposition of an alien regime of control and administration. As in the case of French colonization of Algeria, Zionist colonization of Palestine involved the double process of the displacement of the resident population and its replacement through massive alien immigration. It was all the more antithetical to the principles of pan-Arabism because Israel occupied a pivotal part of the Arab world, separating its Asiatic from its African halves. It was all the more feared because of its territorial dynamism and the seemingly inexhaustible reservoir of Western and particularly American support it commanded. To many Arabs, especially the bulk of the younger generation, Israel is the beachhead of American imperialism in the Middle East and its executioner. With independence achieved by all Arab states and the process of decolonization almost completed in the Third World, the unique and anachronistic plight of Palestine became all the more intolerable in Arab eyes.

These were some of the basic Arab perceptions, however outrageous they may sound, of the Palestine Problem. Their currency and hold were fundamentally unrelated to the popularity or credibility of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), or indeed to its presence or absence. In the first two decades following Israel's creation (1948-65) there was no PLO, and Arafat was an unknown name. This did not prevent these Arab perceptions from conditioning the conduct of Arab states toward one another and toward Israel. Their dominance over Arab minds during this period and to a lesser extent since then (together with Israeli intransigence) has been the principal factor inhibiting the Arab states from realistically coming to grips with the Arab-Israeli conflict. This inhibition is a tribute to the functional role of the Palestine Problem in inter-Arab politics. It is congruent with Arab altruism toward or alienation from the Palestinians or their leaders.

This is not to say that the PLO is irrelevant to a solution of the Palestine Problem and therefore the Arab-Israeli conflict. It is precisely the potentially constructive role of the PLO that the West (particularly the United States) is blind to. (Conversely, perhaps because of the Soviet Union's communist character, Moscow shows greater insight into the PLO's transnational catalytic role.) Western strategy is addicted to the assumption of the autonomy of raison d'état in the Arab world. In a sense this is an extension of the European colonial incapacity to understand Afro-Asian nationalism (Churchill, for example, never understood how Gandhi could possess power). To attribute autonomy to raison d'état in the Arab world is to transfer Western concepts prematurely to it. It is to misconstrue the nature of the phase through which the Arab states' system is passing. Hence American (and Israeli) reliance on the "dominoes in reverse" sequence: with Sadat hooked, Jordan's Hussein will follow, then Saudi Arabia's Fahd, then Syria's Assad. Meanwhile, the Palestinian dust will have been swept or reswept away under some carpet or other.

To the Arabs, the Arab-Israeli conflict derives from the non-resolution of the Palestine Problem. The cause (the Palestine Problem) has to be seen to have been adequately addressed before the effect (the Arab-Israeli conflict) can be resolved. Only the representatives of the Palestinians have it in their power to transmit the relevant signal to pan-Arab sentiment. This cannot be done by quislings or Uncle Toms, present or future. It is here that the PLO, if willing (which it is), can play a crucial role. With pan-Arab sentiment apprised of the attitude of the PLO, the Arab incumbents, their political pudenda appropriately covered, could endorse the settlement. And with that endorsement such a settlement would have an excellent chance of survival.

A PLO-endorsed Arab-Israeli settlement could have a decisive effect on the dynamics of the Arab political process and the future orientation of the entire Arab states' system. Paradoxically it could lead to the consolidation of raison d'état. Such a result would require an alternative model to the existing one. Its central premise could be the concept of the Arab Nation in the state of becoming rather than that of being. From this perspective, Arab unity is a potential, the multiplicity of Arab states actual. Thus unity becomes a programmatic goal, not a metaphysical imperative. It would be approached via the existing sovereignties. Its modality would be interstate cooperation and gradual, cumulative, consensual evolution.

Several developments have tended to make possible such an orientation. Chief among these are: (1) the collapse of the United Arab Republic in 1961 and the falling out not only between the Baath Party and Nasser but also among the various factions of the Baath itself; (2) the redistribution of power in the wake of the independence of the North African littoral and the oil affluence of the smaller or less-developed Arab countries, offsetting the advantages of territorial size, cultural preeminence, geopolitical position, historical role, and entrepreneurial and other human resources of the more established states; (3) the death of Nasser; (4) the emergence of a technocratic, development-oriented elite; and (5) the possibilities inherent in interstate cooperation exemplified by the Arab performance in the October 1973 War.

These developments have had a profound, if indirect, influence in generating a mood of greater pragmatism vis-à-vis regional and global relations, including the Arab-Israeli conflict. More directly influencing a pragmatic approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict have been several other developments: (1) the crushing defeat of the 1967 war; (2) the growing awareness of the extent of the U.S. commitment to the security and independence of Israel; (3) a parallel awareness of the limits of Soviet support against Israel; (4) the new self-confidence deriving from oil wealth and the Arab military performance in the 1973 war; (5) the growing Palestinian awareness of what the revolutionary armed struggle can and cannot achieve.

Whether the new model of the Arab states' system will have a chance to prevail over the existing flamboyant and apocalyptic one hinges primarily on whether an honorable overall settlement of the Palestine Problem and therefore the Arab-Israeli conflict is possible.


What solution of the Palestine Problem would constitute a viable component of such an honorable overall settlement? What follows is not a blueprint but rather an inventory, followed by some reflections. It represents the personal viewpoint of the writer.

The Juridical Status of the Palestine State

The cornerstone is the concept of Palestinian sovereignty. Not half-sovereignty, or quasi-sovereignty or ersatz sovereignty. But a sovereign, independent Palestinian state. Only such a state would win the endorsement of the PLO. Only such a state is likely to effect a psychological breakthrough with the Palestinians under occupation and in the Diaspora. It would lead them out of the political limbo in which they have lingered since 1948. It would end their anonymous ghost-like existence as a non-people. It would terminate their dependence on the mercy, charity or tolerance of other parties, whether Arab, Israeli, or international. It would be a point of reference, a national anchorage, a center of hope and achievement.

Of all peoples, the Jewish people are historically qualified to understand this. Only such a state, through PLO endorsement, would win the support of Arab opinion and the majority of Arab states. These results could not ensue from a Bantustan "federal" formula under a Hashemite dressing, or the perpetuation of Palestinian minority status under international guardianship. They are less likely to result from an Israeli mosaic of Indian reserves and hen-runs, crisscrossed by mechanized patrols and police dogs and under surveillance by searchlights, watchtowers and armed archaeologists. But there is no reason why the concept of Palestinian sovereignty should not accommodate provisions designed to allay legitimate fears of neighbors on a reasonable and preferably reciprocal basis.

The Frontiers of the Palestinian State

The frontiers of 1967 with minor and reciprocal adjustments are the most realistic under the circumstances. They would include East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Contact between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip could be maintained through guaranteed freedom of access along a specified route or routes. This need not necessarily entail the extraterritorial status of the routes.

Such a solution embodying Palestinian sovereignty is a reversion to the old concept of partition. The difference is that no former partition proposal (Peel in 1937, Woodhead in 1938, and the U.N. Special Commission and U.N. General Assembly in 1947) gave the Jewish state anywhere near as much territory as a settlement along the 1967 frontiers would. Given the historical context of the evolution of the Palestine Problem, a partition solution (particularly along the 1967 frontiers) does no violence to Zionism. Within the lifetime of most readers the following words were addressed by Lord Peel to the Palestine Arabs in 1937 in the recapitulation of his report recommending partition: "Considering what the possibility of finding a refuge in Palestine means to many thousands of suffering Jews, is the loss occasioned by partition, great as it would be, more than Arab generosity can bear?"2 It should be borne in mind that on the eve of the U.N. General Assembly's partition resolution ten years later and six months before the declaration of the state of Israel, Jewish land ownership in Palestine did not exceed 6.5 percent of the total territory of the country.3

The fact that partition is an old formula is no argument against its validity today. After all, the idea of a Jewish return to Palestine is of considerable vintage. Nor is it a valid argument against partition that Palestinian and Arab leaders rejected it at the time. Given the context and circumstances, it was inevitable that they should do so. This was known beforehand to all proponents of partition including its chief beneficiary, the Zionists. A different generation of Palestinian and Arab leaders in different circumstances today are prepared to say that they accept it with all the implications of such acceptance for Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli-Arab reciprocal recognition and coexistence.

If it is wondered why it was that throughout the period 1948-67 no one talked of a Palestinian state on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, the answer is simple: Palestinian and Arab opinion was not prepared for it. It aspired to the recovery of the whole of Palestine or the establishment of a democratic secular state in it. Acceptance of partition or a state on the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip was treason. In some Palestinian and Arab quarters, it still is. Therefore, if partition is accepted today over a much smaller area of the country than under any previous partition formula, this is a measure of the evolution in the last decade or so of Palestinian and Arab pragmatism. It is the development that has long been awaited by outside observers and Israelis. It would be tragic if it were not recognized when it occurred. It would be more tragic if it were recognized and ignored.

The Foreign Relations of the Palestinian State

Given the security concerns of its neighbors and the balance of power between it and them, it would make sense for the Palestinian state to declare its nonaligned status vis-à-vis the superpowers and other powers particularly in the defense and military fields. Some variant of the Austrian model could be applicable in this connection. This could involve agreement between the superpowers, their allies and clients to recognize this nonaligned status. Those Arab states party to the settlement as well as other powers could subscribe to this agreement. The arrangement could be guaranteed by the U.N. Security Council and the Arab League.

This does not mean that the state need be demilitarized. Nor would it preclude its membership in the United Nations, the Arab League and other international organizations. Nor would it prevent it, again like Austria, from having a foreign policy.

The closest relations of the Palestinian state would naturally be with Arab League members. These relations could cover the political, economic, commercial, cultural and social fields. But its most intimate relations are likely to be with Jordan. Consanguinity, historical ties and common economic interests would all demand this. Jordan would be the nearest Arab neighbor, the gateway to the Arab world and the sea. Naturally, relations with Jordan would have to be on an inter-state basis of equality. But this does not preclude a consensual evolution of relations toward greater intimacy.

The Armed Forces of the State

A state bristling with the most sophisticated lethal weapons systems is unrealistic. A demilitarized state would be self-defeating. Without national armed forces the political leadership of the state would become the laughing stock of the Arab world. Their eunuch-like image would be enhanced by the formidable Israeli arsenal next door. So would their own sense of insecurity. This would increase their vulnerability to criticism by opponents of the settlement at home and abroad. For several years large segments of the population would continue to live in "refugee" camps, posing security problems to the authorities. There would be a need to curb adventurism across the border into Israel. There would be a need to stand in the way of armed excursions by extremist Israeli groups of would-be settlers. The Palestinian state would be likely to become a great center of tourism and pilgrimage for Diaspora Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims, as well as for Jews and Christians. This could involve the influx of hundreds of thousands annually. Reliance for all this on borrowed security made available by U.N. forces would be impracticable. It would be unstable politically and psychologically. But this does not preclude the use of such forces in a supplementary role or for specific purposes. They could be stationed, for example, along the borders as well as at airports, harbors, and the points of exit from and entrance to the West Bank-Gaza Strip highway.

Heinous as this may sound, an attempt will be made to visualize hypothetical levels of strength for the national armed forces of the Palestinian state. The following table is merely an illustration of how the situation in two scenarios might look on the ground. The Palestinian forces are, for argument's sake, computed on two alternative bases, one-half and one-third of Jordanian strength. They are deployed on a one to two scale in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank respectively. The result is compared system by system to Israeli and Jordanian strengths. Only certain systems have been chosen for purposes of comparison.


Israel Jordan 1/2 Jordan ? Jordan

West Bank Gaza Strip West Bank Gaza Strip

Combat Aircraft 574 78 26 13 18 8

Transport Aircraft 117 11 3 2 2 1

Trainer Aircraft 144 29 10 5 7 3

Helicopters 186 18 6 3 4 2

Tanks 3,065 520 174 86 115 57

Armored Fighting 3,600 140 47 23 30 15

Vehicles (AFV)

Armored Personnel 4,000 720 240 120 160 80

Carriers (APC)

Self-propelled 560 55 18 9 12 6


Guns/Howitzers 450 126 42 21 28 14

SOURCE: Military Balance, 1977-78, London: International Institute for Strategic Studies, 1977.

These totals are merely illustrative. They do not preclude desirable qualitative mixes within each system. The other additional systems available to both Jordan and Israel or only to the latter are listed below.4 Possible comparisons of doctrine, command, training, administration, communications, technical maintenance, industrial infrastructure, etc., are, for brevity's sake, not touched upon.

East Jerusalem

Without East Jerusalem there would be no West Bank. It is the navel, the pivotal link between Nablus to the north and Hebron to the south. Together with its Arab suburbs it is the largest Arab urban concentration on the West Bank. It is the former capital of the sanjak (district) of Jerusalem under the Ottomans, as well as of mandatory Palestine.5 The highest proportion of the Palestinian professional elite under occupation resides in it. It is the site of the holiest Muslim shrines on Palestinian soil. Muslims first turned to it in prayer before they turned to Mecca. Toward it the Prophet Muhammed journeyed on his mystical nocturnal flight and from it he ascended to within "two bow-lengths" of the Throne of God. It is the fountainhead and focus of Sufism - the deepest spiritual tradition of Islam. Within its precincts are buried countless generations of Muslim saints and scholars, warriors and leaders. It evokes the proudest Palestinian and Arab historical memories. It contains the oldest religious endowments of the Palestinians, their most prestigious secular institutions - the cumulative and priceless patrimony of a millennium and a quarter of residence. Architecturally it is distinctively Arab. In ownership and property, it is overwhelmingly so. It is the natural capital of Arab Palestine.

To make it so would involve the partition of the city along the 1967 lines. But not necessarily a return to the status quo ante bellum in all its details. The Israeli argument for a unified city must not obfuscate the military conquest of East Jerusalem. The argument contains two themes. The first is an implicit justification for Israeli annexation. The second endows this annexation with an ecumenical purpose. Neither is sacrosanct. Continued Israeli occupation precludes an overall settlement. This in itself frustrates any ecumenical purpose. Such a purpose is best served if a Jerusalem settlement symbolizes and consecrates the principles most worthy of association with the uniqueness of the Golden City. These are the principles of non-exclusivity, co-equality, non-dominance, co-sharing, non-coercion, palpable justice, the absence of a victor-vanquished equation, the non-dictation of spiritual hierarchies.

There is no monopoly in history or common sense for any one of the three great monotheistic faiths over the fate or future of Jerusalem. But if only because of the chronological sequence of its occurrence, it is Islam alone of the three faiths that encompasses in its reverent ken the other two. Abraham and Moses, David and Sarah, Jesus and Mary occupy the same pedestal alongside Muhammed in Muslim adoration. A partition solution does not mean the erection of a wall. The frontiers could remain open between the capital of Israel in West Jerusalem and the capital of Arab Palestine in East Jerusalem. Provisions could be agreed to at the interstate level for freedom of movement and residence between the two capitals. Regulation of entrance and exit between the capitals and the two states could also be included. A joint interstate great municipal council could operate and supervise certain essential common services, while residual services would fall under the separate municipalities of each sovereign state. Another grand interfaith council of senior representatives of Christianity, Judaism and Islam under U.N. or rotating chairmanship could oversee the special interests, holy places and institutions of each religion and act as an arbitration and conciliation body for disputes or claims arising with regard to them. An irreversible right of access to the Wailing Wall would be an integral part of the settlement, while a special regime for the Jewish-owned properties adjacent to the Wailing Wall could be created.6 These arrangements could be overseen by the grand interfaith council or by a special inter-state Israeli-Palestinian body, under the guarantees of the U.N. Security Council, the Arab League and the Islamic states. It would be supremely fitting if both capitals could be demilitarized in part or wholly except for essential internal security forces.

Only some such solution for Jerusalem is likely to capture the imagination of the world and stamp out for all time the ugly embers of holy wars. Only by some such solution would Jews, Christians and Muslims translate their veneration of Jerusalem from rhetoric to the idiom of accommodation and love.

The Internal Politics of the Palestinian State

If the PLO is to endorse the settlement, it has to participate in the government of the Palestinian state. The likelihood is that the centrist Fatah, the backbone of the PLO, will be the backbone of any Palestinian government. Those Palestinian elements that do not subscribe to the settlement will of themselves decline to participate in such a government. A Palestinian government built around Fatah will almost certainly be a national coalition. And the Palestinians who have lived under occupation since 1967 will in the nature of things play a major role in any coalition. Given their experiences, they will strengthen the centrist tendencies in Fatah. So will the monumental task of state- and nation-building facing the new government. This will demand the extensive support of the entrepreneurial and professional Palestinian elite in the Diaspora. These centrist tendencies will be further strengthened by economic dependence on international and foreign sources as well as on oil-rich Arab countries. The need for close cooperation with Jordan will promote the same result. There is little reason to believe that Fatah and its coalition partners will want to squander overnight the fruits of decades of terrible struggle and sacrifice by the Palestinians. Considerations of pride will impel them to demonstrate how Palestinian genius can build, those of prudence to avoid playing into the hands of others, those of self-interest to survive and prosper.

One of the first tasks of the new Palestinian government will be to draw up the constitution of the new state, to replace the National Charter.

The Refugees

As many refugees as possible need to be settled in East Jerusalem, on the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip. Cooperation with Jordan is essential for the fullest exploitation of the Jordan Valley.

U.N. General Assembly Resolution 194 III of 1948, providing the refugees with the choice between compensation and return, will have to be implemented.7 It is impossible to know how many will choose to return to pre-1967 Israel. While Israel may not be expected to welcome inundation by all those who will want to return, its acceptance of a mere handful will offer no solution. Many Diaspora Palestinians in the Arab countries have become middle class. Most of those in the Gulf countries and the Peninsula have not been granted and are unlikely to be granted the nationalities of the host countries. Their acquisition of a Palestinian nationality, in addition to its psychological impact on them, will regulate their status in their countries of residence and make it easier for them to return or commute to the Palestinian state. The balance of the Diaspora refugees who cannot return to pre-1967 Israel (because of Israeli objections) or to the Palestinian state (because of lack of absorptive capacity) will still have the options of compensation and Palestinian citizenship.

The Israeli Settlements on the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip

Given the need for every inch of territory in East Jerusalem, on the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip to solve the Palestinian refugee problem, it would not make sense to maintain the Israeli settlements established in these territories after 1967.8 Their presence would become a ready target for criticism and agitation by refugees (and their supporters) who had been barred by Israel in the past from return under Resolution 194 III, or who were unable to settle in the Palestinian state because of lack of space. The protection of these settlements and their inhabitants en route to or from them would develop into a major security risk. The circumstances in which these settlements were established would be a constant reminder of the hated occupation. The rights and claims of villagers trespassed upon during their establishment would continue to plague the Palestinian authorities. Far from contributing to or symbolizing Israeli-Palestinian harmony or coexistence, the settlements are likely to exacerbate interracial relations. Palestinians would not stop wondering why, after having acquired 77 percent of Palestine, Israelis should want to settle in yet more Palestinian territory. The continued presence of the settlements would undermine the authority of the Palestinian government and the stability of the overall settlement. There would be challenge enough for Palestinians and Israelis to try out the experiment in "hostile symbiosis" in Jerusalem. It would be folly to overload the system.


Theological arguments have been adduced against the establishment of a Palestinian sovereign state in East Jerusalem, on the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip. The serious arguments are three and will be addressed below:

1. The Absorptive Capacity of the State

The thrust of this argument is that a Palestinian state within virtually the 1967 frontiers (and a fortiori within smaller ones) would be too small and too poor in resources to absorb the bulk of the refugees. The refugee problem and therefore the Palestine Problem would persist even after the establishment of the Palestinian state. It follows that the establishment of such a state would not be a definitive solution of the Palestine Problem.

A few comments are in order.

It is true, of course, that a Palestinian state within (at best) the 1967 frontiers would not itself be able to absorb all the Palestinian refugees. That is why the closer the frontiers are to those of 1967, the greater will be the capacity of the Palestinian state to do so. Israel could also help by meeting its obligations under Resolution 194 III and by withdrawing its settlers from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

A Palestinian state along the lines described above is likely to win PLO endorsement. The responsibility for tackling the question of the balance of refugees after the absorption of others by Israel and the Palestinian state will fall upon the shoulders of the PLO and the Arab states party to the overall settlement.

The psychological effect on the refugees of the mere establishment of a Palestinian state should not be ignored. They have been alluded to earlier; no one can predict what advantage the refugees might take of the opportunity to choose compensation and citizenship in the event of the establishment of a Palestinian state. The miraculous impact of Israel on the Jews in the Diaspora may be relevant in this connection.

Without a state there is no hope of PLO endorsement of an overall settlement. Without such endorsement it is difficult to see who would have the will or the power to tackle the refugee problem.

Even if an overall settlement that does not involve a state were feasible (which it is not), it would have no obvious advantages over a state formula with regard to the refugees.

2. The Economic Non-Viability of the State

The short answer to this argument is that the Palestinian state would be joining a populous club whose membership list includes its neighbor to the West. But there could be worse prospects facing fledgling states. The Arab oil countries do not suffer from a dearth of capital. They would have a vested interest in the stability of the state. So presumably would some affluent industrial countries. The United Nations and other international organizations would be deeply involved in technical aid and assistance programs for the foreseeable future.

A sine qua non for economic progress would be some form of common market arrangement with Jordan. But the greatest asset of the state will be high-level Palestinian manpower. Relatively speaking this exceeds that of all Arab states (with the possible exception of Lebanon) and of most Third World countries.9 It will be attracted by the novel challenge of building a country for its own kith and kin. Specialized new light industries as well as off-season agriculture could depend on this human resource as well as on imported capital, including that of the Palestinian Diaspora.10 Palestinian entrepreneurs, sick of the humiliations of exile in Arab and other countries, are likely to transfer their main or regional offices to the state. A restored East Jerusalem could become a cultural and artistic showpiece of the Arab and Muslim worlds. Arab heads of state would vie with one another to endow and embellish its monuments and institutions as their ancestors had done in medieval times. Individual Palestinian cities could be "paired" with prosperous Arab municipalities. East Jerusalem could become the site of ecumenical, Third World and Islamic conferences. The pilgrimage industry would boom. Expenditure on the armed forces would be modest. The climate of the hills of Jerusalem and those of Nablus and Hebron is ideal for the development of a large-scale summer tourist industry for the Arab world. Jericho and the Dead Sea are equally ideal for a winter tourist industry. Remittances from the Palestinian Diaspora would be sent with greater incentive and confidence. The country could even become a retirement haven for Palestinians aspiring to die within earshot of the muezzins of the Aqsa Mosque or the bells of the Holy Sepulcher.

3. The Dangers of a Radical State, Militarily Threatening to Israel

The thrust of this argument is that the government of the state would be taken over by radical groups. These would be bent upon the prosecution of revolutionary armed struggle, not only against Israel but also against Jordan. They would offer the Soviets or Soviet clients military bases that would put the slender urban waist of Israel under the constant threat of annihilation.

The likelihood that any radical group would seize, much less maintain, power is negligible for reasons already given. Moreover, any Palestinian regime would be subject to several constraints:

First, there would be the global context of settlement. An overall settlement to which the Soviet Union is not a party is a non-starter. A settlement involving the application of some variant of the Austrian model demands the specific agreement of the superpowers, their allies, and their clients to respect the nonaligned status of the Palestinian state. The Soviets might well welcome such an arrangement if acceptable to other parties, including the PLO. It would give them a responsible, integral role in the settlement. It would be welcomed by their Palestinian and Arab allies. It would save them from a potentially embarrassing military commitment in a highly vulnerable place (the West Bank) where the balance of local power is crushingly in favor of Israel. Within such a framework, under U.N. Security Council and Arab League guarantees, the possibility of entanglement by the Palestinian state in dangerous military alignments would be precluded.

Next, there would be the regional context of the settlement. An overall settlement would have to remove the causes of a specifically Egyptian and Syrian irredentism. It would have to involve full withdrawal to the 1967 frontiers on the Golan and in Sinai. This need not entail the stationing of Egyptian or Syrian troops on the frontiers. With pan-Arab irredentism defused by a PLO endorsement of the Palestinian state, and Egyptian and Syrian irredentism defused by return to the 1967 frontiers, the stage will have been set for the generation of an Arab consensus in favor of an overall settlement. Within such a framework, a collective Arab guarantee of the settlement could be made and the modalities elaborated for economic assistance to the Palestinian state. Given its nonaligned status, it is difficult to see what expectation would prompt a Palestinian regime to withdraw from such an arrangement.

Third, let us look again at the military balance between Israel and a Palestinian state. As we have already seen, even if for argument's sake a Palestinian state acquired armed forces one-half or one-third those of Jordan, the balance of power between it and Israel would be crushingly in favor of the latter. The deterrence Israel would command would be eminently credible. It would be all the more enhanced by a sober assessment of the military implications of the new state's geography. Note specifically the following:

(a) Discontinuity. The Gaza Strip and the West Bank are separated from one another by Israeli territory from 20 to 35 miles wide. Even with East Jerusalem restored to the Palestinian state, West Jerusalem dominates the main road linking Nablus to the north and Hebron to the south.

(b) Encirclement. Both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank are almost completely surrounded by Israel, the former on the north and east, the latter on the north, west, south and southeast.

(c) Accessibility of Palestinian Territory. If Tel Aviv is 15 miles from the West Bank, the West Bank is the same distance from Tel Aviv. Accessibility is not only a function of distance. It is a function of terrain, vegetation, communication routes and transport capacities, but above all it is a function of the balance of power. Visual accessibility with the naked eye is a bonus.

The Gaza Strip is five to ten miles wide, 30 miles long. Every square yard is penetrable from the Israeli side by foot within an hour, by vehicle within minutes. It has no warning time against aircraft. It is totally accessible to the naked eye from land and sea.

The West Bank is some 85 miles long. Its greatest width is under 40 miles, its narrowest at Jerusalem is under 20 miles. No point on the West Bank falls outside a 25-mile radius from the nearest point along the Israeli frontier, and most of it falls within a 20-mile radius of the frontier. No impenetrable vegetation or inaccessible terrain prevents arrival from the Israeli frontier anywhere on the West Bank, by foot within six hours, by vehicle within one. Warning time against aircraft is to all intents and purposes nil. No dense forests cover any part of it.

(d) Links to the Outside World. The Gaza Strip has no direct land link to the outside world. If the Israelis dismantled their settlements in the Arish area on the southern frontier of the Gaza Strip, they could be replaced by a U.N. buffer zone. The single airport in the Strip is a stone's throw from Israel. The only harbor is small and makeshift. The figures for the Palestinian forces that might be deployed in the Strip under the formulae discussed above and their relation to the Israeli forces speak for themselves. The Israeli Navy is also available to monitor the Gaza coastline.11

The West Bank has no direct access to the sea. It has one airport north of Jerusalem with limited capacity. It is within medium mortar range from the Israeli frontier. It is accessible to the naked eye to aircraft flying within Israeli airspace. The West Bank's land link to the Arab world is through Jordan. Vehicular travel to and from Jordan is along two main routes with two crossing points on the Jordan River. The routes leading to the crossing points from the Jordanian side pass through gorges and open country. As they come out of the open country on the Palestinian side, they start their climb up the mountains of Nablus and Jerusalem. Given Israeli air superiority, the terrain on both sides of the Jordan River is an ideal burial ground for armor.

As a party to the settlement, Jordan would be anxious to monitor the armed forces of the Palestinian state. Its position astride the land routes of access to the state as well as the state's only contact with the sea through Arab territory (Jordanian Aqaba) enables it to exercise effective control on vehicular traffic to the state. This could be reinforced by U.N. inspection and verification personnel at the two crossing points on the Jordan River, as indeed at the Jerusalem airport. The orifices of the state would thus be sealed.

The West Bank has the configuration of a bulge abutting on Israel, with its base on the Jordan River. The length of this base from north to south is 45 miles. A road runs along the base parallel to the river from the Israeli frontier near Lake Tiberias. An army crossing the Syrian desert in the direction of the Jordanian routes of access to the Palestinian state would have to cover hundreds of miles before reaching the eastern frontiers of Jordan, themselves hundreds of miles from the Jordan River. An armored Israeli column traveling southward from the direction of Lake Tiberias could in less than two hours sever all contact between the Palestinian state and the Arab hinterland. Israel could also draw on its five paratroop brigades and 186 helicopters (not to mention its 574 combat aircraft) to take possession in time of the two crossing points on the Jordan River.

In conclusion, therefore, any PLO leadership would take the helm in a Palestinian state with few illusions about the efficacy of revolutionary armed struggle in any direct confrontation with Israel. They would be acutely aware of its costs. They would have little incentive on national or corporate grounds to incur it.

To one observer, the real security question posed by the Palestinian state is: For how long would the Israeli brigadier generals be able to keep their hands off such a delectable sitting duck?


1 On December 31, 1946, less than a year before the U.N. partition resolution, the total population of Palestine was estimated at 1,972,559, of whom 1,364,332 were Arabs and 608,225 Jews. U.N. Doc. A/AC 14/32, November 11, 1947, paras. 56 ff.

2 Palestine Royal Commission: Summary of Report, Official Communiqué No. 9/37, June 1937, p. 31. The emphasis is the writer's.

3 At the time of the U.N. partition resolution in November 1947, Palestine was administratively divided into 16 districts. Distribution of population and land ownership in these districts between Arabs and Jews is shown in the maps accompanying U.N. Doc. A/AC 14/32, November 11, 1947. These maps indicate (a) that the Arabs were in the majority in 15 of the 16 districts and (b) owned the bulk of private land in all 16 districts. The U.N. partition resolution gave the Jews about 55 percent of Palestine.

5 The sanjak of Jerusalem covered some 60 percent of what later became mandatory Palestine. From a line drawn east-west from the sea to the Jordan River some ten miles north of Jerusalem, it extended down to the borders of Sinai and the Gulf of Aqaba. The sanjak was directly attached to Istanbul instead of to any provincial capital. Palestinian deputies for Jerusalem and other cities in the sanjak sat in the Ottoman Parliament of which a Jerusalemite became Deputy Speaker. (Other Palestinians from the sanjak became senior diplomats, army officers, provincial governors, and civil servants in the Ottoman Empire.)

6 Jewish property within the municipal boundaries of pre-1967 East Jerusalem did not exceed five percent of the area of the city. Most of the Jewish quarter inside the Old City was Arab-owned - the pre-1948 Jewish residents being largely tenants of Arab landlords. In Western Jerusalem whole quarters were Arab owned, e.g., Talbiyeh, Katamon, Musrara, Upper Baka, Lower Baka, El Turi, the "Greek" Colony, the "German" Colony.

7 The resolution has been repeatedly affirmed by the United Nations and supported by the United States. One of the last direct American references to it was made by Harold Saunders (then Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs) on November 12, 1975. Department of State Bulletin, November 1975, No. 8.

8 See Ann Lesch, "Israeli Settlements in the Occupied Territories," Journal for Palestine Studies, Autumn 1977.

9 See Nabeel Shaath, "Palestinian High Level Manpower," Journal for Palestine Studies, Winter 1972.

10 A Palestinian refugee from Jaffa, Talal Abu Ghazaleh, who made good in the Diaspora, was recently reported to have donated $10 million to his alma mater, the American University of Beirut, in Lebanon. New York Times, May 2, 1978.

11 This includes one submarine (two under construction), 18 naval vessels with surface-to-surface missiles, 40 patrol boats, and 12 landing craft. Military Balance, 1977-78, op. cit.

  • Walid Khalidi, who was born in Jerusalem, Palestine, is Professor of Political Studies at the American University of Beirut, Lebanon. He is currently a Research Fellow at the Harvard Center for International Affairs, which is publishing his forthcoming book, Conflict and Violence in Lebanon: Confrontation in the Middle East. He is the editor of From Haven to Conquest and co-editor of The Palestine Problem and the Arab-Israeli Conflict: An Annotated Bibliography.
  • More By Walid Khalidi