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World: Palestine: A Case of Right v. Right

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EVEN if a new round of Middle East talks were to begin soon, even if the negotiations were to succeed beyond the most optimistic expectations, the region would still be a long way from tranquillity. For none of the peace formulas currently being debated offers a workable solution to the issue that has been at the heart of the Middle East’s troubles for 23 years: the fate of more than 3,000,000 Palestinian Arabs.

The more militant Palestinians maintain that they will settle for nothing less than the creation of a homeland that would in effect obliterate what is now Israel. Guerrilla Leader Yasser Arafat, in an interview with TIME Correspondent Dan Coggin in Amman, pledged to keep on fighting until he achieves that goal. Arafat is now the “supreme commander” of a guerrilla organization that may still number as many as 50,000 fighters despite losses last fall in battles with Jordanian troops. “We have more recruits than we can handle,” Arafat told Coggin. Eleven separate guerrilla organizations that existed before the September fighting have been trimmed to four; these will maintain separate structures but act jointly. “We have achieved a unity of guns,” said Arafat, adding confidently: “The hijackings were an unnecessary cry in the night. We are a fact. We’re not in need of such methods to prove our existence.”

Four Solutions. In their demands for a Palestinian state, Arafat and the other guerrilla leaders are reaching for more than they are likely to get. But their basic demand−the creation of some sort of Palestinian homeland for long-dispossessed Arab refugees−seems inescapable. Concedes Secretary-General Arie Eliav of Israel’s governing Labor Party: “The first thing we have to do is to recognize that the Palestinian Arabs exist as an infant nation.”

The fundamental tragedy of the land is that two cultures Arab and Jewish−have proper claims to this small but special strip. The conflict between them, as Washington Journalist I.F. Stone notes, is “a struggle of right against right.” Constant shifts in territory (see box) inevitably caused wrenches in population. Before the 1948 war, 800,000 Arabs lived in Palestine v. 650,000 Jews. Today there are only 400,000 Arabs in Israel v. 2,350,000 Jews. Another 700,000 Arabs live on the occupied West Bank and 360,000 in the Gaza Strip, which Israel captured from Egypt during the Six-Day War of 1967. Nearly 1,500,000 Palestinians live outside their ancient homeland, most in the squalid refugee camps in neighboring Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, where the guerrilla movement was born.

Four solutions to the Palestinian problem have been proposed:

REPATRIATION OR COMPENSATION. No matter how borders are redrawn in future peace talks, Israel is certain to retain some territory that the Palestinians regard as properly theirs. Arabs who once lived in these areas would be given the option of returning to Israeli rule or accepting compensation and living elsewhere. Arab spokesmen insist that no more than 10% would return. Israel worries that the total could be higher and the security risk grave.

ABSORPTION OF ISRAEL. What militant Palestinians want, as Arafat told TIME, is “a democratic, non-Zionist, secular state where we would all live in peace and equality as we did for thousands of years. If the Zionists would accept this principle, we could share power on a democratic basis. We would not insist on having an Arab majority.” Israelis wonder, however, whether a new state would merely substitute a Moslem foundation for a Jewish one. After all, they note, neighboring Arab states (with the exception of Lebanon) either make Islam the state religion or specify that the head of state must be a Moslem.

INDEPENDENT STATE. A third solution would be the establishment of an independent Arab state out of the West Bank and Gaza. Few Arabs believe that such a territory could long survive without falling under Israeli economic domination. Moreover, the creation of such a state would necessitate a corridor through Israel linking Gaza and the West Bank. Asks Defense Minister Moshe Dayan: “Do we really need a corridor bisecting Israel as though it were surrounded by staunch friends whose mind it has entered to destroy it?”

FEDERATION WITH JORDAN. The only workable compromise may be for Israel to return at least the West Bank to Jordan, and for King Hussein to proclaim a Palestine-Jordan federation. After all, roughly two-thirds of the King’s 2,200,000 subjects are Palestinians. West Bank Arabs are not eager to be ruled once more by Hussein, particularly since the September civil war, but he would seem to be preferable to the alternatives.

A federation with the West Bank governed by Palestinians and the East Bank by Transjordanians is gaining support. Hamdi Canaan, former mayor of the West Bank city of Nablus, last week called for such autonomy now. King Hussein seems to like the idea−provided he rules the federation−but selling such a compromise to the fedayeen is another thing. Said Arafat: “Something is cooking in the international kitchen, but we are not going to be a sandwich. They are not going to give us a federation and then say that the Palestine problem is solved, and forget about us. We are going back to Palestine some day. All of Palestine.”

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