THE Bush administration has indicated that after victory in the Gulf crisis it may make an earnest effort to resolve the Palestinian problem. Analysis of the political realities in Israel, the United States, and among the Palestinians, however, indicates that any optimism about the US ability to resolve the Palestinian problem is baseless.
The issues of the return of the Arab land that Israel occupied in the 1967 war, and the establishment of a Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza Strip in return for recognition of Israel by the Arabs, constitute the essence of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The ruling Likud-led coalition in Israel not only rejects the formation of a Palestinian state, but has never accepted the principle of returning land for peace.
Indeed, Likud's tough stand on the occupied territories is an important factor in its electoral strength. In 1989, Israeli Prime Minister Shamir, in response to the Palestinian peace offensive and pressure from Washington, promised to hold elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip so that Palestinians could choose their delegates to negotiate their future with Israel; but other prominent members of the Likud coalition forced him to abandon his plan.
Although the opposition Labor Party has accepted the principle of returning land for peace, it rejects the establishment of a Palestinian state and negotiations with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Demographic changes have been important considerations in Labor's acceptance of returning land for peace. Labor believes that given the large Palestinian population in Israel and the occupied territories (over 30 percent of the total population) and the high rate of population growth among the Palestinians, the continuation of the post-1967 status quo could gradually change the Jewish state into a binational state of Arabs and Jews.
However, the recent large influx of Soviet Jews into Israel has seriously reduced the weight of the demographic argument. Similarly, although before the Gulf crisis public opinion in Israel was evenly split between support and opposition to the principle of returning land for peace, the pro-Saddam stand of the Palestinians is likely to reduce public support in Israel for returning the occupied territories to the Arabs and the establishment of a Palestinian state. Thus, political realities in Israel do not favor any quick resolution of the Palestinian problem.
The same conclusion holds for the Palestinian side. Although Yasser Arafat's support for Saddam Hussein has weakened Arab and international support for the PLO, the organization is still very popular among the Palestinians. At present, there is no serious alternative to the PLO leadership. The top leadership of the PLO may change, but its policy of seeking an independent Palestinian state is not likely to change. Similarly, if the Arab states were to negotiate with Israel, bypassing the Palestinians, they cannot make serious territorial concessions to …