West Bank Blues

The Palestinian Covenant and Its Meaning

by Y. Harkabi
Vallentine, Mitchell (London) Biblio Distribution Centre (Totowa, New Jersey), 159 pp., $8.50 (paper)

The Question of Palestine

by Edward W. Said
Times Books, 265 pp., $12.50

My Home, My Prison

by Raymonda Hawa Tawil
Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 320 pp., $12.95

Jimmy Carter
Jimmy Carter; drawing by David Levine

Menachem Begin was in Washington recently, giving Jimmy Carter another lecture in his series on the semantics of the Middle East. The previous week Anwar el Sadat was in town, reinforcing, through Barbara Walters, his television image as the only statesman currently functioning in the world. The concern that brought the two leaders to Washington is the subject of these three books. It is the same concern that always has, is, and will be at the core of the Middle East dispute and will determine the future of the people who live there: Palestine and the Palestinians. The Sinai is essentially a sideshow; the stage on which, but not over which, wars have been fought. The Golan Heights has always had more topographical significance than political. Of all the Arab territories taken by Israel in 1967, the West Bank (Judea and Samaria to Mr. Begin) is at the heart of the Arab-Israeli dispute.

I first visited the West Bank on assignment for The New York Times in June 1967. Arriving in the Israeli half of Jerusalem a few days before the war, I covered the battle for that city and the subsequent rout of the Arab Legion from the West Bank. I watched during the next year as the Israeli occupation took hold and the military government was established, and, later, in the summer of 1968, when the first large-scale protest demonstrations broke out among the Arab residents. I returned in 1972 to report on Israel and the West Bank for the next four years. After the October war, the West Bank Arabs, emboldened by Sadat’s successful crossing of the Suez Canal, found their voice as they never had before, and staged demonstrations throughout the West Bank. The Israeli response was to tighten their hold and build more settlements.

I have always thought that the West Bank, with Jerusalem at its heart, with its 750,000 Arab residents, with its symbolism for the Palestinian movement and its genuine importance for Israel’s security, would prove to be the toughest problem to negotiate in any settlement. But eventually, I suspect, the two sides will see it in their interest to partition the area, giving Israel the border adjustments it legitimately needs for its security and consigning the rest to its rightful Arab future.

That future will ultimately and inevitably be Palestinian, either in the form of an independent state or in association with Jordan. When it comes, I suspect it will no longer pose anything like the threat Mr. Begin currently envisages. Israel, already the most powerful state in the region, will be more than able to deal with it militarily. An Israeli government drawn from the Sabra generation, more secure in its Middle Eastern identity than Mr. Begin and his East European colleagues, will not feel threatened politically. When it comes to pass, it will, I suspect, seem not so bitter a pill…

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