The United States' decision to begin a "substantive dialogue" with the Palestinian Liberation Organization was mostly an accident - but one that presents great opportunities for peace, according to a long-time Palestinian activist from Utah.
Omar M. Kader, a former BYU political scientist who worked full-time for years for Arab Palestinian causes and who is now a security consultant, said Secretary of State George Shultz wasout-bluffed into making that policy change, but that it could finally lead to negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.
"What happened wasn't so much a major breakthrough. It was a matter of Shultz having his bluff called by (PLO leader Yasser) Arafat," he said.
Kader, whose parents were Arab Palestinians who emigrated to Utah, believes that Shultz never expected Arafat to modify statements as demanded by the United States to renounce terrorism and recognize Israel's right to exist. When Arafat did, the pressure from other countries left Shultz no alternative but to live up to his promise of beginning talks.
"This was not a forward step for the United States. The United States was pulled into this kicking and screaming by the Swedes and all of our friends in Europe," Kader said.
Ironically, Kader said Arafat's bending may also cause him trouble with other Arab leaders. "It raises the problem that if the PLO can recognize Israel, why can't Jordan, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia? But that can be worked out."
Kader said he believes Arafat's anti-terrorism and pro-Israel statements are sincere but warns that the PLO consists of about a dozen different groups and Arafat controls "only about 40 percent of them," the more moderate ones.
Kader doesn't expect the policy change to bring much immediate progress for peace in the Middle East.
But he does see it as a first step. "This is a very substantive move for the PLO in the sense that it gives them a dialogue partner that is critical to Israel. It gives the PLO a direct line to the Israelis," Kader said.
"By having the United States and the PLO talking, it makes it impossible for intransigent Israeli leaders to ignore the Palestinians. It also makes it possible to deal with each other: just meeting, talking and breaking down barriers. We're at that point where they don't even want to physically talk to each other. It would be nice to have working lunches someday."
Kader said the United States also has much to potentially gain from the change. "We are no longer the odd country out at the United Nations and other places in backing Israel right or wrong. It puts into new light now, it puts us more on an honest broker footing where we have never been before. We have always been accused of being so biased that not even rational arguments could convince us."
But he said the biggest beneficiary ironically could be the Israelis. "Israel needs to have some sort of legitimate dialogue with Palestinians (to end violence). It has to have a legitimate broker. Now it has one."
Kader believes that much progress could be made in the first year or two of the Bush admin-istration because both he and his incoming secretary of state, James Baker III, have reputations of being open-minded pragmatists who seek solutions.
"Frankly, we're glad to rid ourselves of George Shultz. He is to Palestinians what (red-neck, Southern sheriff) Bull Conners was to the black community. Palestinians spit his name out," Kader said.