Rabin Holds out for a Palestinian Bantustan

Article excerpt

Rabin Holds Out for a Palestinian Bantustan

"What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore and then run?

Or does it explode?"

Langston Hughes wrote these lines nearly 50 years ago about the struggle of Black Americans for racial equality. Today his question applies equally well to the people of Gaza and the West Bank, whose longing to be free has met continued frustration.

The peace accord signed last September between Israel and the PLO deferred consideration of Palestinian demands for statehood and a role in governing Jerusalem. However, it held out the promise that Israeli troops would begin with-drawing from Gaza and Jericho on Dec. 13 and complete the with- drawal by April 13.

Instead, after the Dec. 13 deadline passed without even a token gesture from Israel, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin declared that "no dates are sacred." He announced that Israel would not carry out the provisions of the peace accord until the two sides agreed on three issues: the boundaries of Palestinian self- rule in Gaza and Jericho, control of border crossings, and security arrangements for Jewish settlers in the occupied territories.

Israel is willing to grant Palestinians control over only 19 square miles around Jericho, which would leave the agricultural lands and minerals of the Jordan Valley under Israeli rule. The Palestinians are asking instead for 80 square miles.

Israel also insists the peace accord calls for the "redeployment" of Israeli troops, not their withdrawal as the PLO claims, and that large numbers of Israeli troops must remain in the Jericho area and Gaza to guard Israeli settlements. Israel alone would control the borders between Gaza and Egypt and between the West Bank and Jordan, thus depriving the Palestinians of even the shred of sovereignty that joint control would provide.

Israel's stipulations, if carried out, would leave the Palestinians with nothing more than the authority to administer local functions in one small West Bank city and in the slums and refugee camps of Gaza, areas with plenty of people but few resources. Later the Palestinians might be allowed the same limited authority in other widely separated villages and towns in the West Bank. What this means is that Israel hopes to create bantustans in the West Bank and Gaza just as South Africa is dismantling its own as a relic of apartheid.

Some Palestinian economists view a peace agreement on Israel's terms as little more than a framework for cooperative arrangements between Israeli and Palestinian entrepreneurs that would produce considerable economic advantages for Israel but only crumbs for a majority of Palestinians. Such joint ventures would allow Israeli companies to join with Palestinian investors to produce goods labeled "Made in Palestine," and thus penetrate valuable Arab markets hitherto closed to Israel.

Economist Majed Sbeih of the Center for Labor Research in Ramallah maintains that as long as the West Bank and Gaza are not politically independent, and given the vast gulf between the highly developed Israeli economy and a Palestinian economy devastated by years of occupation, any form of economic cooperation between the two societies would take the form of neocolonialism. In other words, Israel would use low-paid Palestinian workers to produce high-tech, high-value goods, and only a handful of Palestinian capitalists would share the profits.

Many Israelis foresee even brighter prospects for Israel once a peace agreement is signed. In his recent book The New Middle East, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres envisions a powerful new Middle East common market, modeled on the European Community. Given Israel's highly developed industrial base, such a market would ensure Israel's economic dominance of the region for years to come.

After the tentative accord was announced last September, many Palestinians hoped it would be the first step toward statehood and that the process, once started, could not be reversed. …