As a result of the intifada, there has been a cognitive change among both Israelis and Palestinians that I regard as the major event of these last few years. Today, nine out of 10 Israelis, regardless of whether they are hawks or doves, will say that because the Palestinians are not going to go away, the Arab-Israeli conflict must be resolved. Nine out of 10 Palestinians will also say that the Israelis are not going to go away.
Because events have finally removed the cognitive blocks that have hampered efforts toward negotiations, we will not be able to remain at an impasse with each other for long. The first step toward Arab-Israeli talks is direct elections in the occupied territories. The Palestinians must be given the opportunity, in a swift and efficient manner, to decide who will represent them. These elections should be carried out quickly, under international supervision.In this way, at long last, we will know who really represents the Palestinians. If the Palestinians still want the Palestine Liberation Organization, then let it be the PLO - even though they cheered the Scud missiles that terrorized us and our children. Once a Palestinian leadership is elected, it would be wise for the Israeli government, as well as for other governments, to talk business with the new leadership.
If the PLO is indeed chosen, it would make life easier for the Israeli government if the Palestinian leadership changed its title. It could call itself the "Palestinian Government in Exile" or the "Palestinian Revolutionary Council," or whatever. The name change is important, especially after the PLO's blunder of endorsing Saddam Hussein.
A settlement could then be based on the following principles: self-determination for the Palestinians in return for a willingness by Palestinians and other Arabs to meet all of Israel's legitimate security provisions, such as the effective demilitarization of the West Bank and Gaza; and an agreement that the Israeli-Palestinian arrangement be part of a comprehensive Peace-for-Security settlement between Israel and all its Arab neighbors.
As for the Israeli peace movement itself, the time has come to address ourselves first and foremost to Israeli public opinion. We must focus our efforts on trying to change the minds of the 100,000 Israeli voters who can shift the balance of power between hawks and doves. We need to talk less about justice and injustice and more about the real needs and interests of Israel.
In this effort, we must use one of the key lessons of the gulf war as an argument. We know now that ballistic missiles can reach Tel Aviv, not only from Iraq, but also from Iran. This has made us realize that the occupied territories will not be that significant to Israel's security in 21st century warfare.
1991 New Perspectives Quarterly
Distributed by L.A. Times Syndicate