Magazine article Insight on the News

The Next Step for Mideast: Confederation

Magazine article Insight on the News

The Next Step for Mideast: Confederation

Article excerpt

Now that the agreement between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization has been signed in Washington, it's time to consider what happens next.

Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip already are de facto autonomous, constituting a political community ready for independence. But the exercise of autonomy in the near future will be only a step toward a larger Israeli-Palestinian-Jordanian confederation. And the movement from autonomy to confederation will forgo a stage of Palestinian statehood because of dangers from extremists on both sides.

The projected confederation will resemble the post-Soviet Commonwealth of Independent States, in which each nation is independent under the commonwealth umbrella. Each political entity - Israel, Jordan and Palestine - will require a different level of authority, institutions and structures within the confederation, to be arranged during a period of, at most, five years.

It must be made clear to Israelis and Palestinians (and, more important, to other Arabs, Europeans and Americans) that negotiations will be conducted among geographical, not ideological, entities. The first phase will be conducted to reassure indigenous Palestinians that they will be achieving freedom in their territory as well as eventual mastery of it. But that phase cannot lead to statehood. There is no other way to immediately stabilize Israeli-Palestinian relations.

The Palestinians now in the West Bank and Gaza already display the characteristics of a political community required for statehood. However, the circumstances of the long Arab-Israeli conflict and the habit of deep, ingrained mistrusts do not now permit the formation of a Palestinian state between Jordan and Israel. Much more confidence-building must take place to allow the fulfillment of a politically autonomous people ready for self-government and independence.

The obstacles to a Palestinian state now or in the near future are prohibitive. A Palestinian state would only serve to exacerbate the two most serious obstacles inherent in the Israeli-Palestinian arrangements: the questions of the final status of Jerusalem and of 150,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank and Gaza.

Jerusalem is a sensitive, even dangerous, issue for both sides. In terms of the settlers, removing them or giving them a choice of becoming Palestinian citizens or Israel citizens in a Palestinian state simply would not work. The settlers, or at least their stubborn core of 25,000 to 35,000, are the most militant Israelis, ardent foes of a PLO state. They would become an irredentist bloc with the capacity to upset Israeli governments. They certainly would not accept Palestinian citizenship or domination. They can expect to be supported by Likud and more militant opposition factions that share their views. As a bloc, they could become a serious contributing factor to Israeli political instability.

When it comes to security arrangements, the Jordan River is Israel's security line. Here, a Jordanian-Israeli treaty could specify the role of each country's independent armed forces in relation to the Jordan River. Since it is not projected that any Israeli-Palestinian arrangements would go beyond a police role for the Palestinians, the military forces responsible for the confederation would be the Israel Defense Forces and the Jordanian army, two powerful and respected forces. …

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