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Israel and the PLO: A Way Out of the Impasse

The following is a joint statement by Mattityahu Peled, major general in the Reserve Army of Israel, professor of Arabic at Tel Aviv University, and Elias H. Tuma, a Palestinian, professor of economics at the University of California.

The breakdown of the attempt to bring about another partial agreement between Egypt and Israel has generated many reactions both in the Middle East and elsewhere, ranging from attitudes of “no surprise” to alarmist expectations that another war is imminent. What is certain, however, is that the Geneva Conference will be reconvened and negotiations commenced under the cochairmanship of the two superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union.

The Geneva Conference should be welcome. As we look at the long history of the conflict, it is clear to us that comprehensive negotiations are the most effective vehicle to get all parties to the conflict moving toward reconciliation. Furthermore, we are convinced that the negotiations can succeed only if three conditions are met: 1) that all parties to the conflict participate; 2) that all relevant issues be negotiated; 3) that in order for the result to be constructive and lasting, all parties come to the negotiating table committed to the idea of reconciliation and peace.

There are other preliminary steps that need to be taken prior to a Geneva Conference, or simultaneously with the commencement of the negotiations, so as to enhance the chances of achieving lasting peace. It is of prime importance that both the people of Israel and the Palestinian people play a major role in these negotiations. Even though we have approached the problem from opposing viewpoints we have come to the common conclusion that, while negotiation is the best alternative to war, it is fundamental that the Palestinians and Israelis participate in the negotiations as equal parties.

It should be clear that a basic inequality now exists between the Palestinians and the Israelis. Israel enjoys sovereignty, control of a geographical entity, and full international recognition as a potential participant in the negotiations. The Palestinians, on the other hand, have none of these advantages. We therefore feel that, if negotiations are to achieve their objectives, Israel is in the right position to take the initiative to break the present impasse even at the risk of being rebuffed. The time for action is now and the doors are open for the Israelis to move in the direction that would increase chances of achieving security and peace.

We are fully aware of the complexity of reaching reconciliation. In order to facilitate the process of negotiation in the spirit of reconciliation, we propose a four-step sequence of action and reactions, and call upon the government of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) to implement them, prior to the Geneva Conference, in the following order:

First, the government of Israel and the PLO should issue declarations by which they denounce war and territorial expansionism and commit themselves to the principle that all territorial war gains are returnable.

Second, the government of Israel should issue a declaration by which it recognizes the right of the Palestinians to form a state of their own west of the River Jordan within the internationally recognized boundaries.

Third, the PLO should reciprocate by issuing a declaration recognizing the right of the Israeli people to live in their own state peacefully and securely.

Fourth, the government of Israel should declare itself ready to negotiate with the PLO, directly, as the representative of the Palestinian people, on all future relationships between their two states.

We recognize that these steps are only a beginning and are preliminary to negotiation. These steps, however, should provide a basis for building mutual trust between the two peoples. Indeed, we go further by anticipating that these same steps would be beneficial in promoting a measure of understanding and cooperation among all the prospective participants at the Geneva Conference.

It is our joint hope, as a Palestinian and an Israeli, that the people of Israel and the Palestinian people will find it to their advantage to impress on their leaders the urgency of acting on these proposed steps so as to bring closer the time when they can live in dignity in their own national homes.

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