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MIDDLE EAST: The Palestinians Become a Power

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“Palestine is the cement that holds the Arab world together, or it is the explosive that blows it apart.” —Yasser Arafat

The chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization was clearly fighting his emotions as he addressed the 18 Arab Kings, Presidents, Emirs and other leaders gathered round a horseshoe table in Morocco’s Rabat Hilton. “This summit conference has been like a wedding feast for the Palestinians,” said Yasser Arafat. After four days of sometimes bitter debate, the Arab summit—attended by such luminaries as Saudi Arabia’s King Faisal, Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat, Algeria’s Houari Boumedienne and Syria’s Hafez Assad—had radically and dramatically altered the Middle East situation. The leaders, including even Jordan’s acquiescent King Hussein, for the first time had unanimously endorsed Arafat instead of Hussein as “sole legitimate” spokesman for all Palestinians, including the 640,000 who live under Israeli occupation on the West Bank of the Jordan River. Moreover the Arab leaders declared that the P.L.O. should head an “independent national authority” to be set up on “any Palestinian land that is liberated” from Israeli control.

Agonizing Dilemma. Deliberately or not, the summit leaders had detonated the biggest political explosive yet in what U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger has often called “the minefield” of the Middle East—the Palestinian problem. Besides humiliating Hussein by rejecting Jordan’s somewhat tenuous historical claims to sovereignty over the West Bank, the Arab endorsement of the P.L.O. placed Israel in an agonizing dilemma. The Israelis have steadfastly insisted that any future settlement involving the West Bank must involve Jordan; they have refused even to consider discussions with what Premier Yitzhak Rabin has described as “terrorist organizations whose avowed aim is Israel’s destruction.” The Rabat decision seemed to mean that there could be no negotiations on the West Bank—and for that matter no overall settlement—unless the Palestinian question, meaning the P.L.O., was faced directly.

Henry Kissinger was in New Delhi (see following story) when he learned of the Arab leaders’ endorsement of the P.L.O. Publicly, the Secretary would admit only that it delayed the progress of Middle East peace negotiations. “I do not believe,” he said, “that the door to all negotiations in the Middle East is closed. But in what framework there can be negotiations—that will have to be seen.” *

The plan that Kissinger had discussed with Sadat on his last visit to Cairo in October called for step-by-step phased negotiations between Israel and Egypt followed by talks between Jordan and Israel on the future of the West Bank—a program that now seems unlikely if not impossible. Kissinger will fly back to the area next week for a firsthand check on what the Arab decision does to his policy of “gradualism” in negotiations.

Discouraging Relations. Understandably, he has a particular interest in discovering how the summit decision affects the most moderate of Arab leaders, Egyptian President Sadat. At Rabat, Sadat denied that the endorsement of Arafat would affect his own negotiating plans. The fact is, however, that Egypt’s President has been severely criticized by Arab radicals for his policy of seeking negotiations, and his relations with Kissinger may have become a little discouraging. Sadat can scarcely afford to get too far out in front of his Middle East allies. Small wonder that he cabled Kissinger last week to suggest an urgent meeting between them.

The Soviets had reason to be delighted. Kissinger has been able to shut them out of Middle East negotiations by holding talks bilaterally rather than at the formal Middle East peace conference in Geneva, to which Moscow is a party. But one implication of the Rabat decision is that the Arabs want the P.L.O. to be a participant in any peace conference.

Not that the Israelis are likely to go to Geneva to face the P.L.O. Declared Israel’s afternoon daily Yediot Aharonot: “War in the region may be considered a danger of the very near future . . . The Geneva conference is dead.” Hatzofeh, the daily newspaper of the National Religious Party, which last week agreed to join Premier Rabin’s shaky, labor-dominated coalition government, headlined: THE ARABS HAVE OPTED FOR THE SWORD. A bit more calmly, government officials described the summit results as “not good” and negotiations “at an impasse.” Rabin said: “There is no one to talk to about peace on the eastern borders. We will not negotiate with the terrorist organizations.”

The Israeli frame of mind was not helped by the evidence that the commandos have not abandoned terrorism as a tactic. Just as the Rabat summit ended, three fedayeen were caught crossing into Israel from Lebanon; they were shot to death after an exchange of fire with Israeli soldiers. The Israelis reacted predictably by dispatching a fleet of small warships up the Mediterranean coast. The boats stood three miles offshore from a Palestinian refugee camp at Rashidiyeh in Lebanon and bombarded it, killing five Palestinians and injuring 20.

Wounded Wolves. Israeli fears about the future were magnified by the fact that Arafat was anything but gracious over the Rabat decision (see interview page 31). “Victory is close at hand,” he told the summit session. “This enemy, this military gang [meaning Israel] is a pack of wounded wolves. They are preparing for a fifth war, and we must get ready for it.” Syrians whom Washington constantly suspects of trying to sabotage the Kissinger peace negotiations echoed Arafat’s warlike words. They indicated that Damascus would probably approve another six-month tour for United Nations troops that separate Syrians and Israelis along the Golan Heights. “We’ll need six months to get ready, unless Israel agrees to withdraw from the Golan Heights,” said one Syrian diplomat cryptically. At week’s end there were reports in Jerusalem about an increased military buildup along the Heights.

To emphasize their hard front against Israel, delegates to the summit agreed on an annual military subsidy for Egypt, Syria and Jordan—the so-called Arab confrontation countries—as well as for the P.L.O. Saudi Arabia and other oil-rich nations will give Syria and Egypt $1 billion a year to spend on arms, while Hussein will get $300 million annually. The P.L.O. will receive $50 million a year—considerably more money for arms than most revolutionary organizations in recent times have had. Said one Arab observer in Rabat: “If the U.S. tries to match that in Israel’s behalf, its balance of payments will be in deficit permanently.”

Before the Rabat conference began, observers expected that for the sake of unity, the Arab leaders would work out a combined front for negotiations in which all of the confrontation partners would be represented. Hussein, as King of Jordan, would possibly have been chosen by the group to handle discussions with Israel on the West Bank, but he would also have to agree not to reoccupy that territory pending a plebiscite on its status. After the West Bank was returned to his control, Hussein would supposedly relinquish his control over the newly restored area if West Bankers opted for another government. But when the vote was cast last week at Rabat, Hussein was elbowed aside—and he accepted it. Arafat promised to meet with the King to plan a course of action, but how closely they will work together remains to be seen. Some observers at Rabat felt that the $300 million subsidy was Hussein’s balm; others suspect that he was persuaded by close allies like Saudi Arabia’s King Faisal to make the best of a bad bargain: either surrender his claims to the West Bank to the Palestinians, or run the risk of being ignored and isolated by his more powerful Arab neighbors.

Hussein accepted his defeat at Arafat’s hands gracefully in public, but bitterly among intimates. The West Bank is the most prosperous part of Jordan, and without it Hussein presides over a minuscule kingdom. Although the King professed to be glad that he had washed his hands of responsibility for the Palestinians on the West Bank, few believed him. The East Bank of the Jordan, which is not as economically viable as the West, includes about 900,000 Palestinians in its population of 1.7 million.

Some of the King’s closest friends and most trusted advisers in Amman are Palestinian. But many Palestinians hate him for having forced the fedayeen—literally, “men of sacrifice” in Arabic—out of Jordan in September 1970 during bloody battles that killed thousands of fedayeen and Palestinian civilians. They despise the King for having met secretly and directly with Israeli leaders from time to time and for not having sent his troops into action sooner and in greater numbers in the October war. Hussein, of course, was engaged in a skillful balancing act that allowed him, despite enemies on either side, to hold onto one of the youngest and shakiest thrones in the world.

Explosive Visit. Even some Israelis sympathized with Hussein. “He is not a King any longer with that little territory,” said one. “He is only an Emir.” While Hussein appeared to be sinking slowly, Arafat was rising swiftly. As leader of the P.L.O., he presides over its executive committee, whose 13 members include representatives of five fedayeen organizations and West Bank representatives. In the wake of Rabat, some observers expect, the Palestinians will now form a government-in-exile, which Arafat would probably lead.

Next week Arafat, who only a few years ago was living in caves and dodging both Israeli agents and King Hussein’s troops, will be honored by the United Nations. It may well be the most colorful and explosive visit to New York City by a foreign leader since the days of Nikita Khrushchev and Fidel Castro. Arafat is expected to lead a 35-man Palestinian delegation, which has been invited—although not as a government—to take part in a plenary debate on the status of the Palestinian people. American-Jewish organizations are planning to counter Arafat’s appearance at the U.N. with what may be the biggest protest demonstration ever mounted in the city. Even if they do not hold it—more especially if they do—Arafat’s appearance in New York will allow the P.L.O. to present its case directly to the American people, who have largely ignored the Palestinian issue.

For the estimated 3.2 million Palestinians who are scattered across the world from Israel, Jordan and the West Bank (see map page 32) to Lebanon, the Persian Gulf, Europe and the U.S., Arafat’s rocket to recognition was a heady event. While other peoples have emerged from colonial serfdom to independence since World War II, the proud Palestinians have reversed the process by becoming exiles, refugees and second-class citizens. “We are a people in total calamity,” says Dr. Fayez Sayegh, a Palestinian adviser to Kuwait’s U.N. delegation. “And it happened to us in a period when 70 other peoples got out of colonial imperialism.”

Although deprived of a homeland, most are educated and some are reasonably well off. Palestinians hold key advisory positions in the governments of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the small sheikdoms of the gulf, serve as teachers, doctors, engineers and administrators throughout the Arab world. Sometimes referred to as the “Jews of the Arab world,” they form an elite—if not by choice, then by circumstance. “We are hard workers,” says a Palestinian journalist. “Nobody employs a Palestinian because he is a Palestinian. He is employed because he is better.” Palestinians have a reputation in the Arab world for their drive to educate their children. “We lost everything,” explains Dr. Chafic Haddad, now a Beirut physician. “What else was there to do?”

When Westerners refer to Palestinians, though, they usually mean the 644,093 Arabs who live in 63 refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the occupied West Bank and Gaza. These displaced people are supported by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency on a meager $88 million budget that is largely underwritten by the U.S. ($28.6 million this year) and European Community ($24 million). The oil-rich Arab nations that last week voted $2.3 billion for the fight against Israel gave only $2.1 million to UNRWA last year and have contributed just $26 million since 1950, when the agency began its operations. They maintain that the Western nations created Israel and caused the refugee problem, and thus should bear most of the financial burden. They also argue that as host countries they provide services in addition to money. Many Palestinians who can afford to live elsewhere remain in the camps to help keep alive a sense of community. They cling doggedly to their UNRWA ration cards. Since they have no Palestinian passports, the cards are the only physical evidence they have of their nationality.

Palestinian Writer Fawaz Turki, author of a moving exposition of refugee life called To Be a Palestinian, explains the phenomenon: “To them, the present was insanity, not a natural continuum of what was. To relate to it, they would transform it into an arrested past. A past governed by Palestinian images, Palestinian rites that would be transformed into the construct of their daily life.”

Strong Vision. Young men have grown old in the camps and a new generation has matured there, but the vision of Palestine remains strong. “I will never leave the camp,” says one refugee in Jordan, “unless it is to go to Palestine.” At Nahr el-Bared, an UNRWA camp housing 12,000 60 miles north of Beirut, Abu Saleh, 87, is the patriarch of a camp family that now numbers more than one hundred people. His grandchildren and now great grandchildren have never known any other life.

Abu Saleh was once a relatively prosperous farmer near Nazareth who fled in 1948 when his village became embroiled in the Israeli-Arab fighting. He gathered up his wife and children and abandoned his 400-acre farm. “It’s all gone now,” he says sadly. “I left everything behind. When we left, I thought we would be back soon.” In Lebanon he worked as a farm laborer for a time, but was unable to make the transition as someone else’s hand. In the camp he has raised seven sons, two of whom graduated from the American University of Beirut and became teachers. Another son is a commando in the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. “I don’t remember much about Palestine,” he says, “but I remember our house. Since I joined the Resistance I know it better. I have been there.”

Palestine has been a troubled land for most of its history. In Arabic the word is Filastin; it derives from the name of the home of the ancient Philistines. The region was successively ruled by the Hebrews, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Maccabeans, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Egyptians, crusaders, Mamelukes and finally Ottoman Turks, who indifferently governed the backward, neglected territory from the 16th century until the British drove them out in World War I.

For the next 30 years, Britain ruled Palestine under a League of Nations mandate. The British were largely responsible for some of the country’s future troubles; in 1917, to gain Jewish support in the war, they issued the Balfour Declaration, which backed the Zionist ideal of establishing a Jewish homeland in Palestine. As the population mix and land ownership shifted in favor of Jewish immigrants, the Arabs, aware that they were losing control of their homeland to the newcomers, rioted against Zionist incursions; finally, in 1936 they attempted a full-scale rebellion against the British. One result of those disturbances was the organization of mujahidin (freedom fighters), who were the forerunners of today’s fedayeen.

The Palestine that the refugees remember and dream of rebuilding was destroyed by two events. An estimated 750,000 Arabs fled their homes and farms in terror beginning in 1947, after the U.N. proposed dividing the country into Jewish and Arab sectors, and fighting between the sides increased. Israelis argue that the Palestinians were urged to abandon their lands by neighboring Arab governments in order to facilitate an invasion that would drive out the Zionists. The Palestinians reply that they were driven out by the Jews, and point to atrocities like the massacre of Deir Yassin; all 254 inhabitants of the village were reportedly killed by the Jewish underground organizations Irgun Zvai Leumi and the Stern Gang. (The Irgun leader, Menachem Begin, is today head of the Knesset’s opposition Likud bloc.)

The 1948 hegira remains burned into the minds of those who took part in it, providing the foundation for the community of suffering that unites Palestinians in their diaspora. Dr. Sareh Nasser, chairman of the philosophy and sociology department of the University of Jordan, was a young boy when his family fled their village of Lifta near Jerusalem. “As we were leaving the house, my mother put the key in her pocket and said, ‘I must get the veranda repaired when we come back.’ She still has the key.”

A second wave of Palestinians fled the West Bank in 1967 after Israeli armored forces occupied the area during the Six-Day War. Nonetheless, the largest number of Palestinians still live under Israeli rule, either in Israel, in the Gaza Strip or on the West Bank. The 470,000 Arabs in Israel are possibly the most prosperous but also the least happy of all Palestinians. The Israeli government did not lift military control from their towns and villages until 1966; even today these Arabs are routinely stopped and searched, and they play only a limited role in Israel’s national life. Other Palestinians consider Arabs with Israeli citizenship “one of them” rather than “one of us.” About 70% are Moslems, but they are not allowed by Saudi Arabia to make the sacred hajj to Mecca.

Mixed Feelings. Arabs on the West Bank, who have lived under Israeli occupation for seven years, have mixed feelings about the future. “If the occupation continues for another ten years,” says Hikmet Masri, a wealthy businessman and politician in the town of Nablus, “the West Bank will be lost.” Notes a young businessman. Said Kanan: “Even when our relatives die on the other side and we want to bring them back here to be buried, the Israelis won’t let us. We must have a Palestinian state. Under Jordan we were suppressed and kept underdeveloped. In the gulf we are second-class citizens. The Lebanese hate us. Everyone, everywhere is against us. We feel so isolated.”

The West Bankers have close economic ties with Israel, where 60,000 Palestinians hold jobs. At the same time, however, there are strong family ties to 900,000 Palestinians living on the East Bank—and Jordan, for the West Bankers, is also the entryway to the Arab world. Hussein is cordially detested by most West Bankers; the P.L.O. is both admired and feared. Thus many of these Palestinians would like to see the creation of a new state with some ties to both Israel and Jordan.

Even West Bankers who worry about being ruled by the P.L.O. some day accept the organization—as do the vast majority of all Palestinians—as the voice of their national cause. The P.L.O. was founded in 1964 by Ahmed Shukairy, a Palestinian nationalist who served for a time as Saudi Arabia’s representative to the U.N. and who coined the organization’s infamous and now abandoned slogan about “driving the Jews into the sea.” The P.L.O. is an umbrella organization responsible for coordinating the activities and policies of the six major fedayeen groups, which disagree on goals and ideologies. Best estimates are that the six commando groups have a total membership of about 13,700. Perhaps 3,650 of these are hardcore guerrillas, most of whom were recruited from refugee camps. In addition, the P.L.O. has an official military branch, the Palestine Liberation Army, with 17,000 full-time soldiers, who are based mainly in Egypt, Syria and Iraq. The six fedayeen groups:

> Al Fatah, the largest, has an estimated membership of 6,700, of whom some 2,000 are active fighters. Al Fatah—an acronym derived from the transposed initials for Palestine Liberation Movement in Arabic—was founded in 1956 by a group of young Palestinians in Gaza. Among the students was Arafat (his code name is Abu Ammar), who has led the organization since 1968. Al Fatah has a broad base of middle-class support and no definable ideology other than the liberation of Palestine. Since its first raid into Israel on New Year’s Eve 1965, Fatah has carried out mostly routine guerrilla missions. The most recent target was the Israeli seaside town of Nahariyeh, where three guerrillas last June went ashore in a rubber boat, killed four Israelis and then were shot down. Fatah is generally opposed to overseas commando operations.

Among the offshoots of Al Fatah, however, are the notorious Black September teams, whose exploits outside the parent organization include the Munich massacre of 1972, in which eleven Israeli athletes were killed, and the slaying of one Belgian and two American diplomats in Khartoum in March 1973. This secret subgroup took its name from September 1970, when King Hussein forced a showdown with fedayeen groups that had been encroaching on military and political power inside Jordan. The King’s soldiers not only chased the commandos out of the country but in the process killed at least 2,000 commandos and civilian Palestinians.

> The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, second largest of the commando groups, has an estimated membership of 3,500. It was founded in 1967 by George Habash, a Lydda-born physician who was educated at the American University of Beirut. Habash’s group is more flamboyant than Fatah. Marxist-Leninist in outlook, the P.F.L.P. despises the kingships of Hussein and Faisal almost as much as it hates Israelis and Western (meaning U.S.) “imperialism.” The P.F.L.P., known to Western diplomats in Beirut as “P-Flippers,” has carried out some of the most spectacular terrorist attacks, including the simultaneous skyjacking of U.S., British and Swiss airliners to the Jordanian desert in 1970. It also skyjacked a Lufthansa 747 two years later and collected a $5 million ransom for plane and passengers. The P.F.L.P. is allied with the far-left “Japanese Red Army,” three of whose members shot up Israel’s Lod Airport in 1972 and slaughtered 27 people.

Habash, the most intellectual of the commando leaders, feels that revolutionary violence is the only means of achieving the P.L.O.’s goal of a new secular, democratic Palestine to replace Israel. Suspecting that Arafat was getting soft on the enemy, Habash recently pulled the P.F.L.P. out of the P.L.O.’s executive committee (many Palestinians are still trying to get him back in). Prior to the Rabat summit, he warned against the dangers of “capitulating” to the U.S. and Israel on the Palestine issue, and threatened to set up a new radical liberation group that would oppose the P.L.O. Habash’s hard stand was backed by Iraq, which, along with Libya, forms part of the so-called rejection front, which stands in opposition to a political settlement.

> The Popular Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine is led by Jordanian Christian Nayef Hawatmeh, 40. He and his 500 Marxist followers split from Habash’s organization in 1969, complaining that the P.F.L.P. was not vigorous enough in combatting right-wing Arab governments like Jordan’s. Their most notable recent operation was the Ma’alot raid in Israel last May, in which 21 schoolchildren were killed. The attack prompted a massive Israeli retaliation by air on Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon.

> The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command is another militant splinter from the Habash group. Led by Ahmed Jebreel, 45, a onetime Syrian army officer, the General Command’s hard-core force of 150 guerrillas was responsible for the Qiryat Shemona raid in Israel last spring in which an apartment house was attacked and 16 occupants were killed.

>Al Saiqa was established by Syria in 1967 and is still largely funded by Damascus. Led by Zuheir Mohsen, 45, Saiqa (Thunderbolt) consists of possibly 2,000 men, including about 1,000 full-time guerrillas. Most of them are Palestinian refugees who fled to Syria. More military than political, Al Saiqa is little more than an unofficial auxiliary of the Syrian army.

> The Arab Liberation Front is composed of Palestinians sympathetic to the radical Iraqi Baath Party. Commanded by Abdel Wahab Kayyali, 37, the A.L.F. has only about 100 full-time fedayeen and is seldom involved in terrorist raids.

That this disparate collection of militant groups has maintained a facade of unity over the years is due largely to the energy and political skills of Yasser Arafat. Invariably dressed in fatigues and a kaffiyeh, he usually sports dark glasses and a five-day beard. The balding, pudgy P.L.O. leader, one of the best-known figures in the Arab world, is an engineer by training and he has a straightforward view of the organization’s function: “As a refugee, I have no time to spare for arguing over the left and the right. What is important is action and result.”

Arafat, 44, was born in Jerusalem, the son of a textile merchant. He was a member of one of the city’s best-known clans, the Husseinis, and a distant relative of the Grand Mufti, the Moslem spiritual leader who led the first revolt against the British mandate. As a youth, Arafat was involved in the Arab-Israeli fighting of 1947-48 and became a refugee when his family fled to Gaza. While studying at the University of Cairo, Arafat became president of the local Palestinian Students Federation, and served in the Egyptian army during the 1956 war. Later he moved to Kuwait, where he worked in the Ministry of Public Works and operated a profitable contracting company on the side. A co-founder of Al Fatah, he quit his Kuwaiti jobs in 1964 to devote his full-time energies to the cause.

Complete Devotion. Arafat has never married. “Palestine is my wife,” he once remarked, and those who know him well agree with the judgment. “It is his complete devotion,” says one Palestinian friend, “24 hours a day, 30 days a month, 365 days a year. There is no stop—ever.” He eats on the run, neither smokes nor drinks. He has no home to speak of; one night he will sleep in the P.L.O. office in Beirut, the next at a friend’s home. Even his aides sometimes do not know whether he is in Beirut—or in Damascus, Algiers or Cairo, seeking funds and support. He is particularly adept at the politics of consensus. Says a P.L.O. official: “He is one of the few people I can think of who can fly directly from Riyadh to Moscow and get along well in both places.”

Despite his fire-eating anti-Israel rhetoric, Arafat in private is quiet, almost self-effacing. He seldom talks about himself or his past life, largely, it seems, because he wants to avoid creating a personality cult. Within Al Fatah and the P.L.O., he has no close-knit circle of advisers or a kitchen cabinet. At staff meetings he solicits opinions from everyone, picking and choosing from the advice given him. Compared with Egypt’s expansive President Sadat or even with the zealous George Habash, Arafat has little in the way of charisma, but he can inspire devotion nonetheless. In part, that may be because he seems to care genuinely about his fellow Palestinians-in-exile. He will take time to get involved in such homely matters as helping to arrange a fedayeen marriage or seeing that a commando’s child is enrolled in the right school.

Al Fatah and its sister fedayeen groups have carried on a relentless campaign of military action and terror against Israel, both in the Middle East and elsewhere. Since the Six-Day War, when the guerrillas undertook an anti-Israel campaign that the armies of Egypt, Syria and Jordan were too devastated to mount, the warfare has resulted in the deaths of at least 800 Israelis and the wounding of 2,350. In savage, eye-for-eye retribution, the Israelis have returned terror for terror—usually in the form of attacks on commando strongholds and Palestinian camps in Lebanon and Syria and the West Bank. In all, more than 3,300 have died in these raids. Beyond that, the Israelis formed supersecret death squads that were responsible for killing more than 100 suspected Arab operatives in various parts of the world.

Acts of Terror. In the popular mind, at least, the Palestine Liberation Organization has been blamed for most of the acts of Arab terrorism. In fact, the P.L.O. is anything but a disciplined group, and Arafat has frequently had difficulty in controlling some of its wilder members. He has publicly condemned some of the most outrageous acts of terror carried out by his affiliates within the P.L.O., not so much on moral grounds but because they hurt the fedayeen image.

The end result of a quarter-century of horrors committed by both sides has been an implacable enmity between the Israelis and the Palestinians. The big question now for the Middle East is whether this enmity can be overcome—and if so, how? It will not be easy, since the goals of the Israelis and the Palestinians are seemingly irreconcilable. Israel, of course, is wholly committed to its self-preservation as a predominantly Jewish state on the shores of the Mediterranean. Arafat, the moderate, and Habash, the radical, may differ on means, but both men are nonetheless dedicated to the same ultimate goal—the replacement of Israel by a new secular Palestine for Jews and Arabs alike. Arafat is ready to settle for the creation of an interim, more limited state composed of the West Bank, Gaza and the Hamma region—but this would be only a base for continuing a cultural, political and perhaps military competition with Israel.

By designating Arafat as sole spokesman for the Palestinians, the Arab leaders at Rabat have tried to place the onus of the choice between peace and war squarely on the Israelis. Regardless of feelings about the P.L.O. leader in Jerusalem, he is now recognized by his Arab peers as the political voice of Palestinians everywhere. Although both Jerusalem and Washington hope that Hussein will still have a key role in negotiations over the future of the West Bank, Arafat simply cannot be ignored if a solution to the Palestinian problem is ever to be found. To dismiss him merely as a “terrorist” is a disservice to peace hopes; more than that, it fuels the arguments of Israeli extremists who want to retain all of the territory captured in 1967.

Great Imponderable. In some ways, Israel’s situation is similar to that faced by the French in the Algerian war. Initially, the Paris government refused even to consider negotiations with the Algerian National Liberation Front; eventually, France found that the only possible hope for settlement was to deal with the F.L.N. The analogy, of course, is imperfect: the F.L.N. sought the destruction of Algérie Francaise not of France itself, whereas the P.L.O. at least so far is directly opposed to Israel’s existence. Nonetheless, war will continue over Palestine until the Israelis are willing to talk to Arafat—and until Arafat is willing to talk directly to them.

Thus the onus rests on both sides. The Israelis undoubtedly want peace with their Arab neighbors, along with the secure borders specified in the U.N. resolutions. But they will never get peace until they are prepared to make major concessions to the Palestinians. Even in Jerusalem, there are many Israelis who agree that the Palestinians have a rankling historical grievance. But it is hard to believe that the Israelis will concede any territory to the Palestinians as long as the fedayeen are committed to Israel’s destruction.

One great imponderable in the complexities of Middle East politics is whether Yasser Arafat will be able to modify his intransigent goals without losing the loyalty of his people. Many Arabs think that the fedayeen can eventually be tamed, and that the best way to start the process is to make them a serious partner in the Middle East dialogue. Certainly other revolutionary leaders—Kenya’s Jomo Kenyatta, Algeria’s Houari Boumedienne, to cite only two—have matured as they acquired power and responsibility.

Hard as it was for the Egyptians and the Israelis to begin even indirect negotiations, it will be infinitely more difficult for the Palestinians and the Israelis to make the first groping steps toward a dialogue of sorts. But those steps must be taken—and must be taken soon. Considering the level of tension in the Middle East, the only alternative is a new war that promises to be even bloodier than the last one.

* For a brief time last week, diplomats thought that the U.S. position had shifted. At his Washington press conference, President Ford went a bit beyond his briefing notes to call for “movement toward settlement of the problems between Israel and Egypt on the one hand, between Israel, Jordan or the P.L.O. on the other.” Since Kissinger has no plans for dealing with the P.L.O. at present, high U.S. officials worked out a public clarification. Press Secretary Ron Nessen said that Ford’s answer was based on preliminary and incomplete reports and that the “President made no change in U.S. policy.”

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