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Recent handshake ignored long Palestinian plight.

The mutual recognition of the state of Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization, formally signed in Washington Sept. 13, is a historic breakthrough on one level only.

It ends three decades of demonization of the PLO, of refusal to recognize not only its representation of the Palestinian people but even the existence of a Palestinian people with a right to political status.

Contrary to most U.S. media reports, however, this is not a new step for the PLO, which already in 1988 accepted the partition of Palestine and the existence of Israel. But Israel and the United States refused to reciprocate. Now, Israel has partly reciprocated, recognizing the PLO but not a Palestinian state.

Yet the framework of the present accords provides reason for concern, not only among the few Palestinian "extremists" who demand the return of all the land of Palestine, but also among moderates who accept partition and the two-state solution, yet want genuine Palestinian sovereignty within the territories occupied by Israel in 1967.

The present agreement provides for a beginning of Palestinian local administration within two regions, Gaza and Jericho, with an opening for other areas of local administration to follow. But it leaves all the territory around these Palestinian miniregions in the hands of the Israeli government and its army. Land, water, roads and sovereignty are to continue under the occupying power. The formula could easily become institutionalized as a kind of Palestinian Bantustan, with Palestinians taking responsibility for the education, health, sanitation, postal service and culture of their own people, policing their own dissidents, but with no real control over the land.

If Americans are to have a truthful picture of what exactly has and has not been accomplished by this agreement, it is necessary to know something of the Israeli takeover of the region where Palestinians lived as the vast majority of the population until 1948. Jewish immigrants from Europe began to arrive and to buy land from absentee landlords, displacing the local population, from the late 19th century.

But in November 1947, when the United Nations voted to partition the territory of Palestine into two states, giving 55 percent for a Jewish state and 45 percent for a Palestinian Arab state - yes, a two-state solution and the right of Palestinians to a state has been part of international law for 46 years - only 600,000 Jews lived in the area (and owned about 10 percent of the land) compared to 1.5 million Palestinians. Even in the area designated for the Jewish state, 50 percent of the population were Palestinians.

During the 1948 war, about 1 million Palestinians fled or were expelled by the Israeli army, which occupied 20 percent more of the land than that given by the United Nations. Four hundred Palestinian villages were razed to the ground, and the state of Israel confiscated the land, eventually designating 92 percent of the land in the expanded state as the inalienable patrimony of the Jewish people. Palestinians couldn't live on it or buy it. The remaining 25 percent of Palestine, the West Bank and the remaining part of Gaza, were occupied by Jordan and Egypt respectively, and the Palestinians forced out of their homes and lands to become refugees.

In 1967, Israel seized the parts of Palestine that bad been occupied by Jordan and Egypt and began a brutal occupation that has resulted in 600,000 more refugees, tens of thousands of prisoners, thousands of Palestinian deaths and a 0.25 million injuries. Sixty percent of the West Bank and 40 percent of Gaza have been confiscated for use by the Israeli state and for Jewish settlements. Many Palestinians have been reduced to landless migrant labor in Israel.

During the 26 years of occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, there have been two major positions on the disposition of the "territories" by Israeli leaders.

The Labor Party has leaned to what was called the "Allon plan," in which a ring of Jewish settlements would be created around Jerusalem, and another series of settlements created along the Jordan Valley. Expanded Jerusalem would be annexed into a united capital of Israel, which would also control the water and land resources of the territories. Eventually the areas of dense Palestinian population, without their surrounding resources, would be carved out and returned to Jordan. In this way, Palestinians would be prevented from having the land base for a state of their own and also not allowed to become a major population within Israel, threatening the Jewish majority.

The right-wing parties, by contrast, believed that all of Palestine was inalienable Jewish land and none should be returned to Arab authority. Palestinians should be subdued and as many as possible expelled.

The deal accepted by Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat corresponds in major form to the Allon plan. It talks of local Palestinian authority in the areas of Palestinian population, roughly 12 percent at most of historic Palestine, but it leaves the final status of these local territories undetermined.

Return of the 1948 refugees, connection with Palestinian East Jerusalem, dismantling of the Jewish settlements that control the best agricultural land in the West Bank and Gaza, control of water, all these critical issues are not only undecided but placed within an Israeli-controlled process in which the Palestinians will be very weak "partners" at best. Once this is understood, it is not surprising that large numbers of Palestinians see this deal as the final capitulation to Israeli occupation and a betrayal of their minimal demands by a discredited PLO leadership in Tunis.

It is disturbing that the ink was hardly dry on the agreement when Israel and its supporters in the United Nations made a move to delete all the historic resolutions on behalf of Palestinian rights by the United Nations. These resolutions embody the decisions of the international community to support the right of Palestinian refugees to return or to be compensated for their lands and houses, condemn Israeli settlements and demand complete withdrawal from all the land taken in 1967. To rescind this legislation as "obsolete" is to seek to institutionalize the existing limited framework permanently.

If the agreement is to move beyond local administration of powerless cantons in small populated areas, without control of the resources of the surrounding land of the West Bank and Gaza, this memory of Palestinian rights must not be erased from the record. On the contrary, it must be recognized as the framework for a just development of the present process. There must be a commitment of the international community to a real development of these accords toward a Palestinian state with genuine powers and economic viability.

Rosemary Radford Ruether is professor of theology at Garrett Theological University, Evanston, Ill.
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Title Annotation:Israeli-PLO agreement
Author:Ruether, Rosemary Radford
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Column
Date:Oct 15, 1993
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