The emergence of an independent Palestinian state alongside the
State of Israel has been on the books for a long time. Delayed for
decades by the stubborn refusal of Palestinians and Israelis to
recognize each other's national rights and aspirations, it is now,
at the end of the 20th century, finally in sight. Whilst support
among the Palestinians for statehood is unanimous, polls show that
over 60 percent of Israelis consider the establishment of a
Palestinian state inevitable. The Labor party removed its
opposition to it from its political platform on the eve of the May
1996 parliamentary elections.
Nevertheless, a majority of Israel's electorate chose for prime
minister Binyamin Netanyahu, a man whose political credo totally
rejects the creation of a Palestinian state.
Does that mean that, as long as Mr. Netanyahu remains in power, the
Palestinians have to shelve all hope of independence?
Possibly, but not certainly.
Many Palestinian and non-Palestinian experts as well (see some of
the articles in this issue) are of the opinion that a Palestinian
state already exists. Though it still lacks some attributes of
sovereignty - especially internationally recognized territory and
borders - the Palestinian people have their own elected president
and parliament, an administration, a police force and other state
Mr. Netanyahu has pledged to respect all those acquisitions (born
out of the Oslo agreements) and to continue negotiations with the
Palestinian National Authority, including talks on the permanent
settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Of course, negotiations can be drawn out for years and nothing
guarantees a rapid implementation of clauses already agreed upon,
as demonstrated by the procrastination of the previous Rabin-Peres
This is why so many Palestinians and pro-peace Israelis have lately
experienced disillusion and even despair. Is this despair
justified? As the song goes, "It ain't necessarily so .... "
Though Prime Minister Netanyahuhas repeatedly stated that he, and
he alone, will guide the Israeli ship of state, policies are not
merely the outcome of a single man's decision. In practice,
Netanyahu's policies are fashioned mainly by two contradictory
forces. On the one hand, there is the Likud's ideology. Though more
of a pragmatist than an ideologue, Israel's prime minister cannot
ignore his party's program. Several members of his government and
leading Likud ministers (Ariel Sharon, Benny Begin, Rafael Eitan,
and others), have already criticized his "soft" stand towards the
Palestinians and Arafat. Moreover, his main ally, the National
Religious Party (NRP), patron of the Jewish settlers' movement,
will not stand idly by if Netanyahu appears to give up on the ideal
of a "Greater Israel," whose main champions are the religious
settlers in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
On the other hand, Prime Minister Netanyahu is confronted by a
concrete political reality, made up of Palestinian self-rule, the
Arab states, the United States and Europe, who all favor the
replacement of the unstable and dangerous status quo by a mutually
accepted peace framework.
The latest Palestinian uprising against the opening of a
controversial tunnel leading from the Western Wall to the Muslim
Quarter has shown the strength of Palestinian opposition to
unilateral Israeli acts in East Jerusalem. It has also engendered
international support for Palestinian demands.
Public relations aside, Mr. Netanyahu must soon embark upon
concrete steps in various areas of policy. He will have to decide
between two alternatives: Either he gives in to the
ultra-nationalist forces inside his government and Knesset, so that
the Israeli-Palestinian peace process will grind to a standstill,
risking the outbreak of a Palestinian revolt with at' its dangerous
implications. Or he embarks upon meaningful negotiations with the
Palestinian Authority, progressing further on the road towards
Palestinian statehood, risking a parliamentary revolt of the Likud
and the NRP.
Nobody can say for sure what is in the cards. However, in many
ways, Netanyahu's remaining in power is tied to Arafat's political
survival and, therefore, to progress in the Israeli-Palestinian
We regret this issue did not appear on time. We hope that, even
so, our readers will as usual enjoy the contents of the Journal and
continue to subscribe.