Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Nothing without US Pressure on Israel

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Nothing without US Pressure on Israel

Article excerpt

If Middle East peace talks take place as scheduled this October, it would be safe to predict that Syrian President Hafez Al-Assad and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir will share the 1992 Nobel Prize for Peace. It's true that neither man has ever shied from using terrorism, assassination, torture, or indiscriminate violence in pursuit of his goals, but the same was true of a 1978 peace prize winner, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin.

Although the 1978 Camp David agreement left the fate of the Palestinians in limbo, it was hailed in the West as an historic breakthrough in settling the Middle East conflict. Now, 13 years and three devastating wars later, another "historic" breakthrough seems imminent: a compromise between Israel and Syria over the Golan Heights, which Israel captured in 1967, and a peace treaty between the two long-standing enemies. But in 1991, as in 1978, any agreement reached through such negotiations will only be a partial one, and the peace it offers will be a sham.

Just as the Palestinians were shunted aside when Egypt came to terms with Israel at Camp David, they are likely to be similarly shortchanged in the upcoming negotiations. Between them, the fiercely defiant Shamir and the bland and diplomatic US Secretary of State James Baker set up a squeeze play that left the Palestinians no choice but to give up the right to choose their own spokespersons at the negotiations or not take part at all.

As most of the world's leaders acknowledge, and repeated opinion polls show, the Palestinians regard the PLO as their only legitimate representatives. One could even argue that the PLO is better qualified to speak for the majority of Palestinians than is the present Israeli government to speak for a majority of Israelis, since Shamir heads a coalition that depends for its survival on the allegiance of extremist minority groups. Nevertheless, since June of this year Baker has privately assured Shamir that Washington would support Israel's insistence that no Palestinians linked to the PLO or who live in East Jerusalem or abroad may attend the peace talks. (The one-sidedness of the US position was highlighted in early August when the press reported that Pol Pot, genocidal leader of the Khmer Rouge, had been taking part in the US-backed negotiations on Cambodia, without a murmur from Washington. And, as PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat has pointed out, the US permitted Saddam Hussain to choose the Iraqi negotiators who met with General Schwarzkopf after the Gulf war.)

As a further concession to Israel, Baker also told Shamir that the US would veto any UN Security Council resolution affecting the peace process as long as negotiations were under way. But when the Palestinians asked Baker for guarantees that peace talks would result in Israel's withdrawal from the land it occupied in 1967, he refused to give any. Nor would he modify past statements by the Bush administration opposing an independent Palestinian state in the foreseeable future. On the contrary. Last April Baker told Soviet officials that his preferred plan for the West Bank called for joint Jordanian-Israeli dominion over the territory -- a plan clearly counter to the Palestinians' desire for self-determination.

So when Israel announced on July 31 that although it would never yield an inch of territory it would agree to enter Middle East peace talks, the resulting jubilation in Washington was unconvincing. The Palestinians were being asked to take part in a contest for which the other side had drawn up the rules, could choose all the players, and had determined the outcome in advance. …

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